By Don Lowe 

   As the 12th annual Joplin Memorial Run approaches, all those involved with putting this event together continue to strike a balance between never forgetting that fateful day, while also looking forward and maintaining a mindset of more positive recollections, reflections and remembrances. 

   Race Director and Rufus Racing, LLC Owner/Founder Ruth Sawkins says, “We got feedback from many people in Joplin that they didn’t want to remember the tornado, just to honor those who were taken. So, we want to let the bad memories go and keep the good ones.” 

   One of the truly good aspects that has come together is a 17-foot sculpture honoring all the lives lost in the tornado. Sawkins says, “We love that it is available to everyone in Joplin and has all 161 names on it. The sculpture is a standing reminder for those people and for how far Joplin has come.” 

   As for organization and planning with this important annual memorial race, Sawkins assures, “Sponsors and volunteers are the lifeblood of the event. Without sponsors, we would not have the funds nor the resources to make this event happen, and without volunteers, we could not make the logistics happen.” 

   Sawkins notes there are around 300 volunteers who assist with a wide range of tasks such as “hydration stations, medals and water to course entertainment and packet pick-ups.” 

   Overall, this race brings out a tremendous crowd, and Sawkins anticipates a total attendance with about “3,500 people, including the runners, spectators and volunteers.” 

   Describing the actual race itself, which includes the Freeman half marathon (13.1 miles), Sparklight 10K, Liberty 5K and Sign Design Kids’ half-mile run, Sawkins says, “Thankfully, we usually have great weather, so that always helps. And we do have enough rolling hills in this course to keep it interesting for everyone.”  

   Regarding participant awards, Sawkins says, “The top three male and female overall finishers get trophies and five-year age group division winners, as well. The kids’ run is not timed or given awards, but they will all get finisher medals.” 

   More than a decade since the race first began, it remains a big deal for this community. Sawkins believes the key to that is because, “It’s the only memorial event for the 2011 tornado as well as a celebration of Joplin’s progress.” 

   Sawkins couldn’t be more thrilled to be so heavily involved with this race. “It’s a big responsibility and honor to oversee the event that remembers the 161 lives that were lost. 

   “And to produce a high-quality running event that Joplin can be proud of is so important. It’s a great day of hard work for the runners, and they are rewarded with swag and food.” 

   All those involved with this annual memorial run and the citizens have reason to beam with pride at how far this city has come in a relatively short amount of time. 

12th Annual Joplin Memorial Run (JMR) Fast Facts

When: Saturday, May 20    

Where: Starts/Ends at Cunningham Park    

Why: An event to honor the 161 victims from the 2011 Joplin tornado and celebrate Joplin’s resilience in overcoming the destruction of 8,000 structures.    

How: Compete in the half marathon (13.1 miles), 10K, 5K and kids’ run.    

Funds Raised: JMR has donated more than $300,000 to charity via different organizations over the last 10 years. Provided tornado relief, helped rebuild organizations and have moved more toward focusing funds on helping to improve the health of Joplin citizens. Donations have gone to trail improvements, the Joplin Humane Society, bikes for school children and scholarships for YMCA programs.    

Sponsors: Freeman Health System, US Bank, Sparklight, Liberty Utilities, Sign Designs, Great Plains Credit Union, Crossland Construction Company, SNC Squared Network Doctor Company, Forest Park Church, Arvest Bank, Star Mechanical/Wholesale Supply, Zimmer Marketing, Amcor, Visit Joplin, Iconex, The Joplin Globe, Missouri Eagle, KOAM News Now, Show Me The Ozarks Magazine,, KODE Television, JoMo Moving, FOX 14, Chick Fil A, KSN TV, Countryside Self Storage, Metro Emergency Transport System (METS), AMI Radio & Marketing Group, and Northwest Arkansas Naturals Baseball