Grand Rapids .1k race raises money for muscular dystrophy


Photo courtesy Carissa VanHaitsema

Many high school boys play golf and some may even play in a golf scramble. Not many high school boys start a golf scramble for charity.

Kyle Smith and Mike Friar were two high school boys at East Kentwood when they first started their annual golf scramble. It began as friends playing golf together and eventually became more serious. As more people became interested in signing up for Smith and Friar’s golf scramble, they began to choose different charities for the golf scramble to support. These charities included Paws for a Cause and the Women’s Shelter in Grand Rapids.

The golf scramble became a more serious and important fundraiser when Mike and DeAnne Friar’s son, Kevin, was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. When Kevin was diagnosed, they were already pregnant with their second son. Kyle was born months later and was also diagnosed with Duchenne.

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is a disease that affects children, primarily boys. The disease often causes the children to lose their ability to walk between ages nine and 14. By high school, these children often use breathing machines. Children living with Duchenne often do not live past age 18.

After the Friars’ sons were diagnosed with Duchenne, the golf scramble began to raise funds for the Parent Project for Muscular Dystrophy (PPMD). Friar and Smith started to brainstorm other fundraising options, and Smith remembered a .1k he attended in Buffalo, N.Y.

Smith approached Garry Boyd, one of the people who runs Hopcat, a Grand Rapids bar, and asked him to sponsor the GR .1k.

“I approached Garry,” Smith said, “and he loved the idea. He immediately said, ‘We’re in.’”

Three years ago, the first GR .1k was held in Grand Rapids. Six hundred people came to the event, more than Smith or Friar expected. The event was sponsored by many of the bars on Ionia. This year, around 1,100 people attended the .1k, and the sponsors included Hopcat, McFadden’s, Stella’s, Vitale’s and the Grand Rapids Brewing Company.

The GR .1k is a race centered around fun. The race began at the intersection of Oakes and Ionia streets and ended around the Grand Rapids Brewing Company. Many people came to the race dressed in fun costumes, including a nun, Santa Claus and a few women in tutus.

This year, the GR .1k raised about $35,000. This money came from the registration fee for participating in the event and from some of the sales at the restaurants and bars. This money goes to PPMD, whose goals include education, advocacy, research and care for those diagnosed with Duchenne.

Smith spoke about the cost effectiveness and other benefits of the race.

“The cool thing is that I can raise as much money as a regular race, with not nearly as much effort,” Smith said. “The bars on the street wanted to be involved with the charity, and the only requirement was that they offer a $1 draft.”

Smith also mentioned the length of race as a benefit when planning the GR .1k.

“Everyone can run this race,” Smith said. “That’s the beauty of it. Our hope is that people have fun and that we have good weather. No one trains for the race, and we get half of our sign-ups right before the race starts. Another benefit is that some of the kids with Duchenne can still run a .1k, so it’s cool that they get to participate.”

This year, both Kevin and Kyle Friar attended the GR .1k, and were able to race alongside the rest of the participants. Besides Kevin and Kyle, seven children suffering from Duchenne were able to attend the race. This put a face to the cause that everyone was there to support.

Beth Perry, who has lived in Grand Rapids her entire life, attended the race for the third time this year. She said she enjoyed participating in the race.

“Besides the event being lots of fun,” Perry said, “I want to help families who are dealing with this disease. I pray that they find a cure!”

Overall, many participants in the race had a fun time going to the bars on Ionia and socializing with other racers. The costumes were funny, and the beer and food was cheap. However, the race was made more significant by the important cause it was supporting.

“The stakes are pretty high,” Smith said. “This is a race against time for Kevin and Kyle and all the other children suffering from Duchenne.”