It is a sight reminiscent of Flint’s golden heyday, when bona fide rush hours were a commonplace. Throngs of people briskly walk towards the center of a downtown exuberant with an anticipated spirit keen at this time of year. Parking lots overflow, while expressway exits back up. Group conversations give way to handshakes, high-fives, hugs and a passing “good luck today!” And all before 6:30 a.m.
It is, of course, “The Crim.” Celebrating its 40th year this past August, the Crim Festival of Races has developed from humble beginnings to not only emerge as an authentic world-class event, but a true community celebration. The significance of 15,600 race/walk participants and 3000 volunteers and staff reiterates that the Crim and our community are stronger than the lead crisis that Flint has been dealing with over the past year.
“I think this year’s HealthPlus Crim Festival of Races gave us the opportunity to celebrate and feel good about our community,” Race Director Andrew Younger of the Crim Fitness Foundation says. “It was important for us to prove to ourselves and the world that there is so much good that this community has to offer, and we are so proud that the Crim is a big part of that.”
Gregory Washington of Flint embodies Younger’s commentary. He and his son Jeremiah came out to support his daughters Jomaria and Damonia, who were entered in the 5K event. “I look forward to this event every year,” he says with unabashed enthusiasm. “This is a family outing for us and it’s great to see everybody in the community coming together with smiles everywhere! We should be like this every day.”
Even the local news media covering the events revel in the spectacle of the Crim. WNEM-TV5 Sports Director Scot Johnson has covered the Crim for 20 years. “It was big when I first started to cover it in the late ’90s,” he recalls. “Today it’s a wonderful event that keeps getting bigger–a definite bright spot for the Flint community. And what the Crim Foundation does throughout the year is simply amazing!”
As can be imagined, an event of the Crim’s caliber must have the support of many coordinated activities behind the scenes. One critical component of all the Crim’s events is the timing and scoring system, which has evolved to be completely remote and electronic. Housed in the epicenter of downtown Flint’s Mott Foundation Building, the award-winning Gazall Lewis & Associates Architects, Inc. (GLA) allows a small group of volunteers to set up a base of operations for all of the day’s timing and scoring. John R. Gazall, the president of GLA, sees the “timers” come in very early on race-day morning and set up their computer systems.
“They use top-of-the line technology that tracks the race times of each individual Crim runner and walker for every race as each person crosses the finish line,” John describes. GLA has opened their doors to this activity since 2004 and Gazall has seen it evolve over the years. He observes that the only significant change they see in this setup is the reduction of the computers used to coordinate the races. As technology has changed over the years, the number of computers used by the Crim has reduced. “We turn complete control of our office over to the Crim during the entire race day,” John adds. “They have their own computers and experienced personnel who run their operations.”
Gazall admits to having fond memories of the Crim as he was raised near the four-mile mark of the course and also participated in the 10-mile race. “The impact of what the Crim means to our community is huge, he says. “Crim’s CEO Gerry Myers and his team work endlessly year-round to make race day a success. Adding additional races on Friday evening makes it more than just a race day, it’s a race weekend. With this year being the 40th anniversary of the Crim Festival of Races, you know they are doing things right!”
The Crim, as Flint’s famous festival of runners’ races is known, brings people from all over to participate in one of Michigan’s greatest athletic events.
Adds Andrew Younger, in his “game day” mode: “I was just overwhelmed by the positive spirit I felt from absolutely everyone I saw and talked to throughout the entire weekend.” Younger, who holds BA and MBA degrees, is in his fourth year as race director. He saw this year as an opportunity to make sure everyone in the Flint community could come out and celebrate with the Crim, and be inspired to stay active all year.
“As soon as we heard about the water situation, we knew we had to do something,” he says. “Being the largest celebration in the entire area, we recognized the opportunity and need to rally people around health and wellness. The Crim has always been an event for the entire community, which is why the 8K, 5K, Michigan Mile, and Teddy Bear Trot races were added.”
Young says registration fees can be a major barrier to some, even though the Crim fees are less expensive than most races of similar distances and quality. This posed a quandary as organizers were looking at the budget for winners’ prizes. Thought-provoking questions resulted. Was this the best use of these dollars, or was there a way the money could be of greater benefit to the community? But to Younger and the event organizers, it became apparent that the Crim’s best move would be to break with 39 years of tradition, and repurpose the prize funds to cover the hard costs for up to 2,000 Flint residents. “It’s our way of investing in the health and wellness of everyone in our community,” he says with assurance.
As Andrew Younger looks forward to future Crim Festival of Races, the Flint community can be assured this event will maintain its world-class status. “I will always like to see bigger numbers,” he says. “I think we can get even more people from the area to come and be a part of the Crim each year. The more people who see that, the more we can showcase what a wonderful community we are. But any success the Crim has is 100 percent due to the support of hundreds of partners and thousands of individuals who help us meet our goals. Whether through financial support, expertise, coverage and promotion, or time, we are just so grateful to everyone who helps us. It is truly an example of everyone doing their part to envision, achieve and celebrate!”