Running a virtual Husky 5K

virtual husky 5k

By N.L. Sweeney
Each spring, the annual Husky 5K is an opportunity to raise scholarship money for University of Washington Bothell students. It also serves as an event that brings the broader UW Bothell community back to campus.

In addition to the run, there is face painting and bounce houses for children. Holly the Husky mingles with participants and spectators. There are food and drinks and music and sponsor information booths with giveaways — opportunities to connect.

This year, as the run was turned into a virtual event because of the coronavirus pandemic, organizers found ways to maintain a sense of connection even at a distance.

The result was an unexpected success. A total of 830 runners participated remotely, raising $14,800 for the COVID-19 Emergency Student Fund. This adds to the more than $160,000 in support of UW Bothell students that the event has raised since its inception 15 years ago.

“We were so proud of all the work we accomplished this year with the Husky 5K,” said Tiffany Kirk, interim director of alumni engagement. “We pushed through adversity and change, and ultimately, we ended up succeeding.”

Recreating community

Mary Howisey
Mary Howisey. Courtesy photo

Even as they decided to hold the run as a virtual event, Kirk and her co-organizers Mary Howisey, fundraising and events chair of the Alumni Council, and Brandon Washington, manager of philanthropy and annual giving, wanted to recreate the experience and fun of an in-person event.

They made videos for adult and children runners to interact with as they “ran.” They built platforms on social media for people to share posts about their 5K experience. They made a place online where runners could post their times. In advance of the event, volunteers also hand-delivered to participants “race boxes” that included a Husky 5K T-shirt, medals, a yard sign and a banner.

“The excitement people responded with was contagious,” said Kirk. “Posts poured in, with hundreds of people pumped to show they were passionate about contributing to the cause. This year’s Husky 5K far exceeded our hopes.”

Virtual advantages

“What we found was that a lot of people want to get involved,” said Kirk, “so one of our main goals for this year’s 5K was to remove as many barriers to entry as possible.”

The run was extended to last the entire day on May 16 so that runners could participate whenever their schedule allowed that day. And with runners able to track their own 5K routes using the apps provided on the Husky 5K website, participating no longer meant driving to or parking on campus.

“Even my family down in Tacoma was able to join for the first year,” said Howisey. “Because of the measures we took to include people, we ended up having registrants from 24 states.”

After the finish

Tiffany Kirk
Tiffany Kirk

Runners this year included students, faculty and alumni from well beyond the Puget Sound region as well as people unaffiliated with UW Bothell, something Kirk and Howisey hope continues in the future.

“One of the things we learned from this year’s Husky 5K is that you don’t have to be close to the university to still want to be a part of its community,” said Howisey. “We want to honor the fact that we have alumni around the world who want to stay connected to UW Bothell.”

For Kirk, this year’s Husky 5K was one of her proudest moments in 10 years working at UW Bothell.

“I got to really stretch my imagination and just go for it,” she said. “I am so honored to have been a part of such a talented team, to have engaged so many people and to have helped raise more money for students.”

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