Despite chilly temperatures and the threat of rain, more than 2,000 participated in the first annual Louisiana Skeeter Run in the early morning of April 21.
Held in eight cities throughout Louisiana, United Methodists and community members walked and ran to raise funds and awareness for Imagine No Malaria, an initiative of The United Methodist Church.
Held as a Change the World event and sponsored by the Louisiana Annual Conference, the Louisiana Skeeter Run was organized by the Global Health Initiative of the conference.
“As United Methodists, we put feet to our faith. The Louisiana Skeeter Run is a great example of who we are. Each one of our volunteers played a key part in sharing the story for Imagine No Malaria,” said Margaret Johnson, chair for the conference initiative and Skeeter Run director.
Participant Stephani Rogers wrote, “Just wanted to thank you for an awesome run! I decided at the last minute to run the 5K. I loved the people along the way cheering us on and the friendliness of everyone! I do not go to church there (a United Methodist church) and I felt so amazingly welcome! I will run again next year for sure!”
The inclement weather the morning of the run caused a few nervous moments for race directors at the majority of the eight sites.
Rev. Jon Lord, race committee member, recalls events leading up to the start of the New Orleans Skeeter Run.
“Even at 6:30 a.m., the sky was still cloudy with lightning showing to the southwest. We were held up getting into the Riverview Park by a stopped public belt train. But this was God's event, because the rain held off and we started on time,” he said.
Across the state, Rev. Lord’s son Ryan ran in the Ruston Skeeter Run. The junior Lord, who won his age group, is a malaria survivor.
“Ryan contracted malaria when we lived in Tanzania,” said Rev. Lord, who served as a missionary in Africa. “A reporter from KNOE-TV in Monroe interviewed Ryan after the race as a malaria survivor. The young newsman didn't know that malaria is a disease or how it is contracted. I was struck by the great need for elevating awareness of the disease in the United States.”
The Baton Rouge Skeeter Run boasted the largest number of supporters with 464 volunteers, walkers and runners. Steve Backstrom, who helped to direct runners midway through the route, was surprised to receive a donation for Imagine No Malaria from a passer by. “A man skirting the route in his car rolled down the window and asked me what was going on. I explained the Skeeter Run to him, and shared a little bit of information about the cause. He took out his checkbook and handed me a donation of $50!,” said Backstrom.
The morning after the Skeeter Run, the success of the event was celebrated in churches throughout the Louisiana Conference. Rev. Jeff Duke, pastor of Bayou Blue United Methodist Church in Houma, shared that the acolytes for Sunday morning worship proudly wore their Skeeter Run t-shirts in church. “I thought this was a great followup to the event that we very much enjoyed yesterday,” he said.
Probably speaking for many, on race day, one young woman shared her reason for getting involved: “As Christians, that’s our job! It’s what we’re supposed to do.”