Race For Hope

Joplin Memorial Run Honors the Past, Looks to the Future 

By Savanah Mandeville


This year marks the eighth annual Joplin Memorial Run, and it doesn’t show signs of slowing down.

It is one of Joplin’s most popular events, drawing an estimated 2,500-3,000 runners each year. The count for the entire weekend, including runners, volunteers and spectators, climbs to 8,000 people representing 30-35 states.

Ruth Sawkins, race director and owner/founder of Rufus Racing, which organizes JMR, said to make the event possible, it takes a community effort, and the support she has seen over the years is astounding.

“We have around 500 volunteers,” she said. “We have a wonderful committee of about nine people, and under that, we have 40 different directors that I call my ‘special operations team’ who help oversee different aspects of the event and the volunteers. Everyone who’s involved, from our sponsors to the city, are phenomenal and work so hard.”

To date, JMR events have raised more than $400,000 to benefit community organizations affected by the tornado.

Sawkins said each year, those fundraising efforts are focused on a specific goal. This year, it is The Joplin Humane Society, which is looking to expand its dog trail.

“The Joplin Humane Society was nationally recognized after the tornado for all of the pets they helped find and get back to their families, and they did a super adoption day and were able to adopt out all the rest of the animals that were not reconnected,” Sawkins said. “So we are so excited to be able to give back to them and help build the dog trail.” 

Last year, JMR focused efforts on helping Stained Glass Theater fund a new roof and other upgrades to its building. Previously, JMR fulfilled a pledge of $100,000 for the Bill and Virginia Leffen Center for Autism.

This year marks the second in a series leading up to the 10-year anniversary in which the event will be symbolized by a Joplin icon that emerged following the tornado. This year’s icon is the Hope High School sign. Like the Spirit Tree last year, the Hope sign will emblazon the race T-shirts and be incorporated in the medal design.

Another change this year is it will be the first to offer a 10k course.

“We had a lot of people ask us about a 10k because their options were the half marathon, 13 miles or a 5k, which is 3 miles, so we needed something in between,” Sawkins said. “The 10k is equivalent to 6.2 miles. We’ve had a great response so far.”

As the city heals from the May 2011 tornado and nears the 10-year anniversary, the Joplin Memorial Run continues to be a beacon of remembrance and hope.

“The Joplin Memorial Run has become a heritage and tradition for our town now,” Sawkins said. “I love how our community has pulled together to honor those who are gone and to celebrate how we have moved forward and the resilience we’ve had.”


Friday May 17

Noon-8 pm

Packet pickup and runner expo
at MSSU Beimdiek Student Center

6 pm

Sign Designs Kid’s Run starts

7 pm

Walk of Silence through memorial banners
on Joplin Street

Saturday, May 18

6:30 am

Freeman Half Marathon starts

JVM Half Marathon Relay starts

Cable One 10k starts

6:45 am 

Liberty Utilities 5k starts

10:30 am 

Course closed