An Aspen tradition: The Buddy 5
July 3, 2010
ASPEN – It’s become an Independence Day staple, a nearly three-decade long tradition that has become as big a celebration as the parade down Main Street and the fireworks display that illuminates Aspen Mountain.
As many as 1,000 competitors from across the state and country – avid runners to weekend warriors, even those of the four-legged variety – gather at the corner of Cooper and Hunter streets each year to take part.
Some come to win, to test their mettle and lung capacity on a challenging 5-mile course. Others come to enjoy a leisurely stroll through downtown.
Everyone comes to support a worthy cause.
Most will agree: There’s no better way to start July 4 than with the Boogie’s Diner Buddy 5-Mile Race.
“It’s hard to imagine July 4 without having this event. It’s just hard to imagine it, period,” Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland said Thursday. “It’s become pretty iconic.”
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Ireland recalls the event’s humble roots, dating back to the late 1970s when an estimated 150 to 200 people participated in the Aspenglo 5 (named for a store), which started at Wagner Park.
The competition was much fiercer then, Basalt High track and cross country coach Ron Lund said.
“I remember years when you could run under 30 minutes and barely crack the Top 15,” he added. “Now, if you do that you’re in the Top 5. … It seemed to get a lot more of the fast guys from the Boulder area.”
Later, after the Aspenglo closed, The Aspen Times assumed sponsorship to keep the race afloat. Ireland, then the paper’s sports editor, served as race organizer.
He was in charge of making application forms, drumming up interest, even helping make T-shirts, which were screen-printed and hung in the Red Brick gym, Ireland said.
The operation was not as well organized as today, Ireland said.
“I have to admit, we had tape machines to punch runners’ times, and one year the tape ran out part-way through the race,” he added with a chuckle. “Nobody thought to check the tape machine. Everyone kind of got approximate times that year.”
The event generated little money, Ireland said, although organizers were able to purchase a clock that still hangs over the finish line to this day.
That all changed in 1987.
Diner owner Leonard “Boogie” Weinglass became the main sponsor that year, according to Ireland, who was attending law school at the University of Colorado at the time.
The event has gained steam ever since – and the Buddy Program has been the beneficiary.
“He said he’d pay for all the expenses … which made it a lucrative event for the buddies,” Ireland said. “He started doing a auction and a party and all those things, too, and it became quite a powerhouse nonprofit.”
Currently, more than 450 children in the Roaring Fork Valley are involved with the Buddy Program, said Catherine Provine, the nonprofit’s executive director. About 320 are involved in regular mentoring programs, while others take part in the Aspen Youth Experience, which provides experiential learning opportunities such as hut trips, day camps and other activities that “provide a sense of accomplishment and leadership skills … that help these kids be able to persevere and be successful in their own lives.”
About 80 percent of every dollar generated from Sunday’s event (registration for the five-mile race and one-mile family walk is $40 per person in advance, $50 on race day and $15 for ages 16 and under) goes directly to the program, Provine said.
Those funds help the nonprofit work with schools to identify children most in need of mentoring, recruit big buddies put on 15 to 20 activities each year and even provide scholarships, Provine said.
“If the kids want to pursue their passions – say take flute lessons or go to art camp – and they’re not able to do it on their own, we think it’s important to do what we can to help them identify and develop those passions,” she added.
For Weinglass, who estimates proceeds from the race and various other fundraising ventures have raised about $8 million for the Buddy Program in the last 10 years, the cause is a personal one.
“I was an inner-city poor kid [in Baltimore]. Without mentors, I doubt I would be here today,” he said. “This is why I’m involved. … This is one of the best nonprofits in town.”
“To see all these people come together to support the program … that’s what is most gratifying.”
Like he does every July 4, Weinglass will be standing at the top of Hopkins Avenue, the 4-mile marker, to help cheer on runners. Provine will welcome participants as they cross the finish line.
Lund, who has participated in the race sporadically since its inception, said he expects to be in town and will either be a pace-setter for a friend or savor the rare chance to watch his daughter Megan compete. Megan Lund, who is chasing the dream of one day competing in the Olympics, recently secured a spot on the country’s mountain running squad. She will represent the U.S. in Sept. 5’s world championships in Kamnik, Slovenia.
“Getting to see all the locals and be in downtown Aspen for the Fourth of July, that’s a good way to start your day,” Ron Lund said.
“Aspen’s a good vacation destination and has a pretty active community and good core group of runners. And because of the cause … this will continue to thrive.”
Added Provine: “People understand that healthy kids make for a healthy community, and they have rallied to the occasion.”