Runners and walkers are encouraged to participate in a virtual race this February 13 since the formal bridge run will not be held.

For nearly two decades, thousands of eager runners would gather at the base of the Sidney Lanier Bridge on an often chilly February morning. Once the “ready, set, go!” was given, the pack would charge up the unforgiving incline on the way to completing the state’s most difficult 5K race.

It’s been an event the Southeast Georgia Health System has hosted since 2012, but has been a part of for much longer. It has become a long and honored local tradition, one that draws participants from around the world. The proceeds from the entry fees are invested back into the community through the Southeast Georgia Health System’s Foundation, which funds programs that aid cancer and cardiac patients.

But, as with so many things, the race had to be shelved due to the pandemic. Krista Robitz, director of development for the Southeast Georgia Health System Foundation, says it was a difficult but necessary decision.

“Unfortunately, we had to make the difficult decision this year to protect the community, our patients and their loved ones. So we have opted instead for a virtual event,” she said.

While there won’t be crowds gathered on the morning of Feb. 13, the health system is still encouraging the community to get out and move on that date.

“We would love to see people doing it on their own ... running or walking independently or in a small group. Then, instead of a registration fee maybe they would consider making a donation to our cancer care or our cardiac care programs,” Robitz said.

While the formal race can’t be held, those initiatives need aid more than ever before. Robitz says the additional layer of stress brought about by the pandemic has created a perfect storm that impacts a number of existing health conditions.

“Cancer and cardiac problems have not vanished just because we have COVID now. It’s still very prevalent in our community, and we need those funds more than ever,” she said.

“The funds that are raised (from the annual bridge run) are used to help those who would otherwise have to stop treatment because of the financial burden. The foundation can step in and help them to continue with their treatment.”

For individuals, pledging to run the bridge and donating the $20 registration fee to the foundation offers a win-win. Not only will these critical program benefit, but the exercise would offer participants a chance to improve their body and mind.

“We know that stress can cause a multitude of health problems. But this is a brand new year and a really great time to take the opportunity to take control and improve our physical health by running or walking,” she said. “Just because we can’t gather together doesn’t mean that we can’t seize the day and use it as an opportunity to make ourselves feel better.”

It can also be a day to lay the groundwork for the 2022 race. Scaling the imposing Sidney Lanier Bridge is certainly not for the faint of heart. And starting small can prepare one for next year’s highly anticipated return.

“We absolutely cannot wait for 2022 and we want everyone to save the date. The registration will open in early fall and the bridge run will be back, better than ever on Feb. 12, 2022,” Robitz said.

• To make a donation to the Southeast Georgia Health System Foundation, visit wearethefoundation.org or call 912-466-3360.

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