Futures So Bright 5k goes virtual


Ryan Ash

Organizers and participants of the Future’s So Bright 5k stand underneath the finish arc outside the Illini Union on the Main Quad on Wednesday.

By Catherine Pavilionis, Contributing Writer

Through the chaos of this past seven months, the little things have made the most difference for many in day-to-day activities. Even as shops and restaurants continue to open up little by little, heavy restrictions remain on physical fitness.

What once was a fun way to socialize while also getting in a good cardio session, the Future’s So Bright 5k has had to shift its format to best serves the student body and faculty while keeping everyone safe and also rallying the Illini community together.

Ella Bailey, the sponsorship and outreach specialist with Campus Recreation, and Alana Harris, Campus Recreation associate director of student wellness,decided to make this year virtual in order to keep students, faculty, and staff active. Bailey and her Campus Recreation team turned first to associations across the country for inspiration.

“With this year, things are obviously different with COVID. We decided to still have it because we have been seeing virtual races going on in the community and all across the country,” Bailey said, “We chose to just make it a virtual experience, as well as make it a week long, so people have the opportunity to get their time in and to go somewhere that they really like to enjoy their run,” Bailey said.

The virtual race this year had dramatic organizational and executive differences to other years they have hosted. From Oct. 17 to 23, participants ran the 5k whenever they had the chance, recorded and submitted their time, then posted pictures with #ActiveILLINI to win prizes. 

In years prior, everyone ran together. A large archway was set up in front of Foellinger with a finish line where students could take photos. Staff members cheered the runners on through the course of their laps.

Some would walk up and join. All they had to do was pay their race fee, then they were welcome to run alongside everyone else, Bailey said. 

In the three years that the 5k has been operating, this year has been the most interesting to plan. Even with a virtual race, though, Bailey and Harris both hope to foster the same sense of community that the two previous 5k’s have encouraged.

“We absolutely need to provide programming and opportunities that students can engage with in a safe way because some of the secondary things coming along with COVID are sedentariness and a lack of opportunities for social interaction or emotional connection to others,” Harris said. “There aren’t as many options and maybe that’s it, that students are really grabbing ahold of this because they want to feel part of the community, they want programming. There just isn’t much more than this right now.”

While this event’s primary goal is to help the University’s community come together, it also helps to support future Illini with their tuition costs in the Tony Clements Scholarship, dedicated to one of three past directors of Campus Recreation.

“We thought that was a really good thing to have the option of donating a portion of their race fee to that. [Clements] actually passed away a few years ago, so it’s even just a bit more meaningful to have this scholarship in place and to also … have a student be able to receive a really nice reward,” Bailey said.

Working closely alongside Campus Recreation for the first time this year, the Illini Union Board has also been helping to make the virtual 5k as memorable an experience as possible. Illini Union Board special events director Arianna Pannarale, a sophomore in ACES, also wanted to focus on creating a sense of community during this difficult time.

“I really wanted to donate shirts because my vision was to see students running in their shirts for the 5k and to have people stop and think ‘Oh, well this is interesting. I wonder what that’s all about,’ and the idea that the more shirts you see, the more united it would feel on campus as a result of the event. Just to reiterate that we’re not in this alone and we can all do our best to stay healthy and active and to push each other through this hard time,” Pannarale said.

Despite the hardships that communities all over are currently facing, Bailey and Harris want everyone to continue to focus on what really matters.

“We can’t come into the same spaces that we did before and get close to each other, but we still wanted to provide students with an opportunity to come together, to train together, to share completion photos together,” Harris said.


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