Cailinn O'Brien, center, at her first Awesome 3000 race in 2010 with cousin Austin Weigel, left, and friend Adam Biggler (Courtesy/LaTishia Crosen)

LaTishia Crosen ran her first Awesome 3000 in 1987, just a few years after the annual Salem fun run began.

Her daughter Cailinn, 16, has raced every year since 2010, including in 2020 when the event was held virtually.

“I told her about how me and her uncles all ran it when we were their age and it was the one thing we looked forward to every year that we did as a family,” Crosen said in an email.

But the longstanding family tradition will have a gap this year. There are no plans for an Awesome 3000 this summer in Salem following the closure last June of the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation, which organized the race.

Kelly Carlisle, the foundation’s last executive director, said the group had months ago tentatively reserved McCullough Stadium for the first Saturday in May, the traditional date of the race.

But ongoing pandemic restrictions have made holding the event nearly impossible.

The Awesome 3000 requires months of planning to coordinate volunteers, design and make a commemorative T-shirt and secure sponsors. It typically draws about 10,000 people, including 2,500 children who participate in the race, and was a major fundraiser for the foundation.

“You really can’t have an event of that magnitude until things are fully reopened,” Carlisle said.

The Awesome 3000 was first held in 1983 as a fundraiser for the newly established foundation, with several hundred kids competing in various age groups. A $5 entrance fee allowed the foundation to give grants to a dozen local educators, the Statesman Journal reported in 2017.

In later years, the race split into events with distances ranging from 300 to 3,000 meters.

After the foundation announced its closure in June 2020, its leaders made plans to transition its programs to other Salem nonprofit organizations.

Before it was dissolved, the foundation had been rebuilding after a period of financial struggle following its rapid expansion and purchase of a new building in downtown Salem. But the overnight closure of most of its youth programs during the pandemic led to a revenue decline the organization couldn’t survive.

The YMCA of Marion and Polk Counties took on many of the foundation’s childcare and youth sports programs.

United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley began running the Enrichment Academy, an after-school program, chief development officer Liz Schrader said.

But talks about United Way running the foundation’s larger events, including the race, never turned into concrete plans for 2021.

“Nobody’s felt any urgency to create an Awesome 3000 before we know what’s going on with the pandemic and loosening of restrictions,” Carlisle said.

Carlisle said he hopes to create a new nonprofit foundation to support the Salem-Keizer School District, though there are no concrete plans yet for such a group. Whether through that organization or United Way, he said Salem can expect the Awesome 3000 to return in 2022.

“It is kind of sad that we won’t have a T-shirt for 2021,” he said.

With medals and T-shirts for all participants, Crosen said the Awesome 3000 is fun even for kids who aren’t the fastest runners.

Her favorite memory is Cailinn’s fourth race, when her daughter had set a goal of running the entire course instead of stopping to walk. But she gave up her goal to stop and encourage a boy who had fallen and scraped his hands and knees.

“She walked the rest of the race with him. She came in dead last but when she came out of the race she was so happy that she got the chance to help someone,” Crosen wrote.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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