A sense of community pride and giving back brought out a large contingent last Saturday morning in support of the Tiger Run, back live after a year’s hiatus on account of the pandemic.
A record number of 5K and 10K participants took to the streets, running, jogging and walking – some going fast, others taking it slow – all in support of the South Pasadena High School Booster Club.
For the 737 who registered for the 24th annual run, it was a long-awaited opportunity to traverse the city with friends and neighbors after nearly two years of COVID, while enjoying the South Pasadena’s pristine residential neighborhoods as the perfect backdrop.
Nearly 300 participated in a virtual event in 2020, many documenting the unique experience through pictures, before uploading them onto Facebook and Instagram. While it wasn’t the live event hundreds had hoped for on account of coronavirus, Tiger Run Race director Jose Zavala said he’s grateful for the support received by those who turned out. “It showed the care and concern that so many people have in our community to continue to make the run successful,” he said, following last year’s event. “It was really more about philanthropy and everyone’s willingness to help make a difference.”
With its live return this year, many of those involved say the Tiger run is special because it is a total community event, involving support from a variety of organizations. The City of South Pasadena is a key sponsor as the police department provides traffic control along the two routes, ensuring the safety of runners.
Residents like Hunter Brown, who was joined by his wife, Mallory, on the course agreed, saying the run “is a great way to support our South Pasadena community and see everyone come together for a great cause. It’s one of those days that really makes you love and appreciate how great South Pas really is!”
After a send off, under chilly conditions in front of the school’s gymnasium on Diamond Avenue by starter and South Pasadena’s own Dr. Mark Ghaly, the appointed secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2019, the throng of runners were soon greeted by plenty of well wishers along the way, many waving and cheering them on as they made their way through the 5k and 10k courses.
“It’s a joy to participate in this very well organized, easy commute event where we get to run through our own awesome neighborhoods and see all of our friends running alongside and walkers on front of their porches and sidewalks still in their pajamas!” said Andrew Berk, current chair of the Chamber of Commerce in town. “My family and I don’t run many 5K or 10K’s but when we do we always do the Tiger Run! As we live next to the starting line, we simply felt too guilty over the years hearing our friend and master booster, Bill Buckley shouting on the megaphone all the festivities and felt once again we should be out there running it and supporting our incredible Boosters and our community.”
Buckley and Katie Clark are instrumental when it comes to the SPHS Booster Club and, along with Zavala, are among the go-to people in maintaining the Tiger Run’s success. Members of the Associated Student Body (ASB), the school’s student government and leadership class on campus, and SkillsUSA, a partnership of students, teachers and industry working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce, helped in a variety of ways. Among its efforts, SkillsUSA held a traditional pancake breakfast to fuel the runners and friends before and after the race in an effort to raise funds. Volunteers from the Aztlan Athletics Foundation and Leo’s Key Club from Arroyo High School also supported the two races.
After many years of taking a break from the Tiger Run, Michele Downing, a well-known realtor in the area and South Pasadena resident, said it was “great to be back on the course seeing many familiar faces of all ages. The SP camaraderie is phenomenal.”
Keeping participants cool and hydrated, organizers provided water stops along the way for runners as many hurriedly grabbed the small liquid filled cups, quickly quenching their thirst, before heading off into the distance.
The first half of the 10K covered the same ground as the 5K, with the second half run on a challenging, hilly course through the higher elevations in the city. New this year, all participants finished on Diamond Avenue where the race began, not ending on the high school track like in the past.
Proceeds from the $45 entry fee for the 5K/10K and $20 for the Cubs Run, which sent a group of speeding kids about 300 yards around the school’s track, will benefit South Pasadena High School clubs, activities, athletics and more. Including the Cub Run, and the 5K and 10K, Zavala said the event has attracted over 700 registered runners in the past. “But when you take into account just the 5K and 10K it was the highest attended Tiger Run since its inception,” he assured.
Race categories for Saturday’s event included: 11 and under, 12-14, 15-18, 19-24, 25-29, 30-34, 35-39, 40-44, 45-49, 50-54, 55-59, 60-64, 65-69, 70-74, 75-79 and 80-plus.
Bob Joe, a former mayor in town, in his mid-70s and in top shape, finished second in his age group, noting that the Tiger Run “is a great community event that brings South Pasadena together. Every age group participated. There were a lot of children out there running and walking. It was fun.”
Joe is already looking ahead to next year’s run, marking the 25th anniversary. “They organizers are already talking about making it a really, really big one. It’s already big, but they really want to make the 25th special.”
Sam Hernandez, a longtime volunteer in the community, didn’t run but was on hand to support his wife, Corlyn, who took first place in her age group. “The turnout was long waited,” he said. “With COVID putting a halt to it last year we needed this. This is our community, and what a wonderful place to be.”
South Pasadena Mayor Pro Tem Michael Cacciotti, who has been participating in the Tiger Run for many years, whether as a runner, walker or, even one year on a bike, says the event is “good for people’s health. They get out there and walk, run or ride a bike. It also reminds us that we have to work for clean air.”
In addition to his role on the council, Cacciotti is a board member with the South Coast Air Quality Management District. “People may not see all the pollutants, but they’re out there,” he said. “It’s important to have electric cars, trains, buses, lawn equipment, so that when you’re running or jogging you’re inhaling clean air.”
As a local AYSO soccer coach, Cacciotti explained that three members on his team this season have asthma, and says it’s alarming to see inhalers and nebulizers at practices and games “as the air quality is often bad.”
While he continues to make efforts to improve the air quality for resident, especially through the city’s recent ban on gas-powered leaf blowers which goes into effect in October 2022, Cacciotti likes what the Tiger Run does for the community.
“We all see that there’s something special and rare about South Pas, a city that actually exists in big metropolitan Los Angeles County,” he said. “People feel a sense of a small town pride and this event only adds to it.”
The Tiger Run is managed by Aztlan Athletics, which has developed and operated grassroots, community-based fundraising events, since 1974.
“I think it was successful,” said Zavala, Aztlan Athletics’ founder, of this year’s event. The organization manages about 15-20 grassroots, community-based fundraising run/walk, health and wellness attractions each year.
South Pasadena High Athletic Director Anthony Chan likes the idea that “every year, the Tiger Run gets a little bigger and bigger,” he said. “Though we had lower numbers in COVID, we had an exceptional turnout for a virtual run. This year, as we return to having some things in person, we shattered expectations of attendance, having more people than we’ve ever had in recent years. This might be surprising to others, but as someone who has seen South Pasadena come together for athletics in the past year and a half, it is not surprising at all.”
He insists it’s because the community rallies to support “South Pasadena schools and our kids,” he continued. “It’s great to see everyone connected to South Pasadena come out to support the run, from the Tiger Cubs to the oldest age group.”
Chan praised the efforts of Buckley and Clark, the Tiger Run chairs, along with Zavala from Aztlan Athletics for their long hours in putting together an event well received by the community. “A big thank you to everyone who ran,” he said. “Collectively, everyone makes South Pasadena special.”