Who runs this city?

On a humid August morning about a hundred runners and walkers lined up in front of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and waited for the word “go.”

Some in a sprint, others in a more leisurely stroll, they headed down Market Street, tramping down a five-kilometer run, twice looping HemisFair Plaza. Every step was for a good cause. It was a fundraiser for C.O.P.S., Concerns of Police Survivors, an organization that helps the families of law enforcement officers who die in the line of duty.

Before the race began, Juanita Garza, president of the South Texas Chapter of C.O.P.S. stood behind the registration table, smiling as she helped runners pin on their numbers and passing out commemorative T-shirts. She handed Jason Brichta two large shirts and the numbers 51 and 52 for him and his wife. This was the first time the Brichtas ever ran in an organized event, though they’d been training for months with the goal of conquering this weekend’s monster Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, a 26.2-mile grueller.

The Brichtas, however, were planning the Rock’s half marathon — 13.1 miles — and were running C.O.P.S as a tune-up. Jason looked a little anxious, blaming his nervous stomach on his wife, Deb. “She’s a little bit worried that people are going to run a little faster than her or slower than her. And so we’ve got to get that out,” he said.

Back at the registration table, Garza remembered how C.O.P.S. helped her family when her husband was killed in a head-on collision while driving to work at the Fabian Dominguez Prison. But it takes money to keep the summer camps and grief counseling programs going “We needed a fundraiser,” Garza said.

Tapping San Antonio’s growing running community as a philanthropic source has become a reliable tool for local non-profits chasing those elusive dollars. Almost any given weekend there’s at least one benefit run somewhere in the region. They range from less demanding 5K’s up to full-scale triathlons. But it’s November 14’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon that has proven to be one of the best annual fundraising running events in the city.

Although owned and operated by the for-profit company Competitor Group, Inc., Rock ‘n’ Roll works hand-in-glove with local non-profits. “Charities through the Rock and Roll Marathon have generated over $233 million since that first race in San Diego in 1983,” said the group’s spokesperson Dan Cruz. “Annually, we raise over a million dollars in San Antonio.”

This year the local Susan G. Komen affiliate is the main charity for the Rock ‘n’ Roll. “We think fighting breast cancer by raising money for treatment and research while also helping motivate people to get fit is a great match for Susan G. Komen,” said Kimberly Hinze, the development director for Susan G. Koman for the Cure San Antonio.

The non-profit will be cheering on its roughly 300 sponsored runners with a crowd of pink-shirted volunteers from mile five on the marathon route. “People are invited to come out and help us applaud our runners,” said Hinze.

When runners sign up to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon with a local charity, they get a double benefit from the experience, said Edgar Gonzalez, director of endurance event initiatives for the San Antonio chapter of the American Cancer Society. “The majority of the individuals who have decided to do a big event like this, it’s their first time. They’ve never done anything big like this and they are driven to do something big for themselves. Doing it with a group like the American Cancer Society, they can do something big for the community as well,” Gonzalez said.

The non-profit groups help their volunteers with nutrition instruction, weekly runs, organized fundraising events, and companionship while logging those long miles.

Those who know it say the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon completely changed the city’s running scene when it came to town three years ago. “I had started a running group and we had about one hundred people in it. And overnight it grew to about five hundred,” Gonzalez said. “It’s really neat to see the transformation of the city and the running community and how people now are out there running and exercising.”

It starts with one person who decides to run. Often, they then ask a friend at work to join in the jog, and that person ropes in a spouse. It isn’t long before there’s a new running pod beating down miles of SA asphalt.

That’s precisely how the running bug bit Jason and Deb Brichta more than four months ago. Back at the C.O.P.S. 5K, numbers 51 and 52 crossed the finish line side by side.

“He could have finished faster,” Deb said, still catching her breath. “It felt good … And it feels even better that we were helping a good cause.” •

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