Spirit Run continues to expand over its 35 years

Spirit Run was introduced 35 years ago as a 5k and Kids Run benefiting three Newport Beach elementary schools. It has evolved into a multi-faceted running and expo event, attracting and celebrating runners of all ages and ability levels, and benefiting schools throughout Newport-Mesa Unified (NMUSD) and beyond.

In the early 1980s, a teacher at Harbor View Elementary School envisioned a running event to raise money for schools. Harbor View’s Parent Faculty Organization (PFO) together with Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) from Lincoln and Andersen Elementary Schools made that vision a reality. In 1983, they introduced the first Spirit Run, consisting of an adult 5k and a Kids Run.

Over the years, Spirit Run grew to add a 10k and to expand from a single kids race to several races based on age. As participation in Spirit Run increased, an event day expo was added. After they opened in the early 2000s, Newport Coast and Eastbluff elementary schools joined in presenting Spirit Run and in sharing its net proceeds.

Karen Yelsey, NMUSD board member, has been a Spirit Run enthusiast from the beginning. As a parent, she enjoyed participating with her children, Josh and Anne. As a PTA member, she volunteered even serving as Spirit Run chair. 

Yelsey and kids

Photos courtesy of Spirit Run

Karen Yelsey with her children, Anne and Josh in the mid-1980s

“Having been a part of the Spirt Run from the beginning as a participant, director, fundraiser and cheerleader, I am so proud to watch this event evolve,” Yelsey shared.

In 2010, the PFO and PTAs decided to give up Spirit Run, choosing instead to focus on individual school jog-a-thons. A group of Newport Beach parent volunteers founded a 501(c)(3) non-profit called Newport-Mesa Spirit Run, Inc. (NMSRI) to continue Spirt Run. NMSRI invited all NMUSD schools to participate. It also offered free running training to elementary schools new to the event, along with bus transportation and free entries to underprivileged NMUSD students.

Yelsey supported Spirit Run’s transition, desiring to continue Spirit Run’s legacy of promoting youth fitness and education. 

Steve Scott and Yelsey kids

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Olympian Steve Scott with Josh and Anne Yelsey

“From initially raising funds for CdM zone schools, the new Spirit Run financially supports all schools in Newport-Mesa,” Yelsey explained. “It continues to develop a strong sense of community and encourages our kids to be physically active.”

Indeed, Yelsey is enjoying the full Spirit Run experience. She will be attending Spirit Run this year with her grandson, Noah.

On March 18, Spirit Run will celebrate its 35th anniversary, its eighth with NMSRI. Like the PTAs, NMSRI has endeavored to maximize donations to schools, donating more than $300,000 in cash and 2,000 event entries in the last seven years. 

NMSRI has another mission – to include and celebrate runners of all ages and ability levels, both in and outside of NMUSD. NMSRI has slowly expanded Spirit Run and its school outreach over seven years. It has more events than ever for individuals to enjoy themselves, with family, and even with their furry four-legged friends!

In 2016, Spirit Run introduced adult mile races. The new point-to-point course traveled around Fashion Island, primarily on a decline, and promised a fast finishing time. Spirit Run challenged elite athletes to break four minutes, enticing them with a cash purse and other prizes. It encouraged other runners to set a personal record or test their fitness on the fast mile course.

Elite Mile

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Elite Mile competitors

Jorge Jabaz, elite runner and coach, enjoyed the new mile races. He offered improvements for 2017, including adding a Dog Mile. Jabaz claimed many human-dog duos were eager for the challenge.

Jabaz was right! In 2017, Eric Dyson and his dog Griffin, won the Kriser’s Dog Mile in four minutes, 41 seconds, followed seconds behind by Sean Gildea and his pooch, Sven.

Even USATF Southern California (So Cal USATF) caught the buzz! For 2018, So Cal USATF selected Spirit Run to host its Road Mile Championship. It also chose Spirit Run for its 2018 10k Championship and Grand Prix Championship Series. These impressive distinctions and So Cal USATF’s promotional efforts are certain to grow the enthusiasm of both elite and dedicated runners from Southern California and beyond.

NMSRI’s expansion efforts, however, are not limited to serious adult runners. Spirit Run continues to create new ways for students, families, and the local community to join in the fitness and fun.

In 2017, NMSRI introduced “Dash for Cash” for schools outside NMUSD to participate and raise funds through Spirit Run. “Dash for Cash” is simple. The more students, families and school supporters who register and run for a school, the more money the school raises. Visit www.nmspiritrun.org/partners to learn more.

Our Lady Queen of Angels (OLQA) is gearing up for its second year with “Dash for Cash.” Spirit Run’s 5k Family Walk was popular with OLQA participants wanting to participate as a family.

Spirit Run appreciates and admires the desire of families to celebrate fitness together. In 2018, Spirit Run is offering another family event – the Family Mile.

The new Family Mile is for parents and children to enjoy together. With 20 minutes to finish, there’s plenty of time for the whole family to jog or even walk the course together. Individuals are also welcome to enjoy a casual stroll.

Even better, Spirit Run is offering new Family Rates in the 5k Family Walk and Family Mile. Register the family for savings up to 35 percent off individual entry fees. Add the grandparents and save as much as 50 percent with the new the Grand Family Rate. Visit www.nmspiritrun.org/registration/ to learn more.

Catch the Spirit Run fever! Participate yourself or with your family, your dog, and/or your school, to celebrate fitness, fun, and funds to youth education and fitness. To register and for event details, visit www.nmspiritrun.org.

For the second consecutive year, StuNewsNewport is proud to be Spirit Run’s media sponsor.