Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A brief introduction to the Great Race for Education

The Great Race for Education is this Friday. Plenty of people have been involved, even obsessed with it, but for those of you who don't understand the fuss, here's an article I wrote last fall for the Eastern Idaho Technical College publication Insight.

Last year's theme was zombies. This year's theme is superheroes. But whether you want to wear a pair of tights or just some gym shorts, this is an event you might want to check out.

When it came time to bring something new to the four-year-old Great Race for Education, the Eastern Idaho Technical College Foundation turned its attention to the world of the living dead.

Foundation Board President Daren Long has a passion for all things Halloween. Combine that with the intense fan base for zombie television shows and film, and the 2012 Great Race for Education: Zombie Edition was a no-brainer.

"We knew we could really take this event to the next level if we had a theme," said Long. "Zombies are trendy, so it was extremely easy to find ideas, promotional items and new twists to take the event to the next level."

The Great Race already has a corps of passionate participants. When the zombie idea was announced, "(The) reaction from the teams was above and beyond anything we expected," said Michelle Ziel, the foundation’s executive director. Thanks to the Bonneville High School cheerleading squad, the race also had a troupe of zombies pacing the course to throw teams off of their game.

Begun in July 2009, the Great Race is an event in which teams are given clues that lead them to different locations around downtown Idaho Falls, where they perform challenges. Once they've performed five challenges they head back to Snake River Landing. How fast they are able to do this has a lot to do with how quickly they can decipher clues. Teams can also buy additional clues, with the proceeds going to the EITC Foundation's scholarship program.

Although it was a success from the get-go, the race's support in the community has grown dramatically in the past two years. In 2010, once the expenses had been calculated, EITC Foundation reported proceeds from the race around $13,000. In 2012, the foundation came away with slightly more than $32,000 -- an increase of nearly 150 percent.

Although race day is in mid-July, the buildup starts in April with the Trashion Fashion Show at the city of Idaho Falls' Earth Day event. There is active promotion on social media, all with the goal of raising money and recruiting new teams. Teams who participated in the 2012 fashion show had the chance to obtain “zombie immunities” to help protect their runners from lurking ghouls.

The 2012 Great Race saw the biggest number of teams ever. New participants included Premier Insurance, the Old School All Stars, University of Phoenix and Mountain America Credit Union.

While a team can improve its chances of winning by buying clues in advance, taking part in pre-race challenges, and recruiting runners with physical stamina, there are no guarantees. Last summer, first place went to the team from Idaho Treatment Group, which beat out such past-year powerhouses as My Three Stooges, Cargill and Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center (which along with Mountain View Hospital and Snake River Landing, hosts the event).

Once the race is done, everyone enjoys food, music and a special rapport that comes from having done something really significant for the community. At the end of the day, racers participate to change the lives of the students in which their efforts help. Here are a few comments from EITC Scholarship recipients on how their Great Race for Education Scholarship has benefited them and their families.

"Dear Great Race for Education Scholarship Donors: This award allows me to continue to progress toward my degree as a medical assistant much faster than I would be able to do on my own. I will continue to work hard and put forth my best effort to ensure your generous gift was well placed."

"Dear Great Race for Education Donors: I hope that my children will learn from my example that they too can do anything. Thank you again for making this opportunity possible for me and my family."

With next year rapidly approaching, the planning is already underway for the 2013 Great Race for Education. Get your capes and tights ready, and fasten your utility belts. The 2013 year theme will be superheroes, as scholarships save lives one dollar at a time.