About 1,500 riders took off for the hills around Waterloo on Saturday morning, riding 19, 34, 62 or 100 miles on a well-known bike ride – the
Trek 100 – to raise money for a well-known cause, the MACC Fund.
Both events had perfect weather. Both events were well-run by organizers and volunteers. Both have been around for many years. And the Trek 100 was a first-class event as usual, upping the ante more this year with themed rest stops and more food than a cyclist could possibly dream of having on a fully supported ride.
Here's the concern: participation numbers were down. Again. And it is 2023, which means we are more than two years away from the lockdowns and restrictions of the pandemic that canceled nearly all of the 2020 runs, races and rides and severely limited or impacted the same events in 2021.
We don't want to lose them for good.
For comparison, here’s a look at other longstanding events:
Al's Run taking a break
Children’s Hospital put its Al’s Run on hold this year when the Children’s Wisconsin Foundation announced in March that it has
decided not to host the 2023 Briggs & Al’s Run & Walk, a downtown tradition for 45 years.
Originally known as the JournAl’s Run – because it was created by former Marquette University men’s basketball coach Al McGuire and Milwaukee Journal sports editor Bill Dwyre in 1978 – this event drew 17,000 runners in 1982, making it the fourth-largest road race in the U.S. at the time.
But recreational athletes changed over time, and fewer people signed up for running events in the 2000s and 2010s decades. So the Al's Run event added a popular 5-kilometer walk as well as the run. Still, participation was strong. In 2016, 15,000 people turned out, most of them for the walk.
In 2019, the race had 10,000 participants. Due to COVID-19 the event was held virtually in 2020 and 2021.
Last year, the total number of participants plummeted to 8,000. That’s still a great turnout for any event, but organizers decided to weigh their goals of inclusivity and the work and expense of hosting a downtown Milwaukee activity like this versus the income it draws for the hospital and the participation potential.
Ride for the Arts rebounding
On June 4, cyclists flocked to downtown Milwaukee for the United Performing Arts Foundation (UPAF) Ride for the Arts. There were 2,930 riders who helped raise nearly $420,000. But in a sign of the times, numbers were down.
"While we have had more participants many years ago, this was our highest total since COVID-19 canceled our traditional ride in 2020," said Katie Korek, PR & communications manager for UPAF. "We have grown in participation every year since then which we are thrilled about."
Ride for the Arts had 100 volunteers throughout the route stretching from Cudahy to Lake Park and several sponsors.
"Our biggest note this year is that we were thrilled to return to the Henry Maier Festival Park for the first time since 2019," Korek said. "It was clear that participants were happy to be back at the Summerfest Grounds for the start and finish line festivities. It has certainly been a challenge to regrow this event since 2020, but being back in this same setting certainly brought a sense of normalcy to the day for both staff as well as riders.
"All in all, we were extremely happy with how the event went and that we are able to help kick off the summer with this beloved event. And of course, as our single largest annual fundraiser, the funds raised by this event play a critical role in sustaining the performing arts sector throughout Southeastern Wisconsin."
Trek 100 participation has declined as well
Trek 100 is one of the best amateur cycling events in the state and it did not disappoint Saturday. Trek sponsors the event, employees and volunteers donate their time and sponsors provide merchandise perks and cuisine that just aren't found at most events.
All riders have to do is pay a registration fee and then raise a minimum of funds (or cover that cost themselves) to be donated to the MACC Fund. The whole thing cost me $150, for example, as I covered my own fundraising.
Trek 100 began in 1990 and has remained a big part of Wisconsin summers since. Even the pandemic couldn’t destroy this event, when riders still donated their costs even without the ride itself. Here are recent participation levels:
June 9, 2018: 2,286 riders
June 1, 2019: 2,412
2020 (virtual ride from home): 2,093
2021 (virtual ride from home): 2,019
July 30, 2022: 1,769
Rider turnout Saturday was 1,448 (not including walk-up registrations) and everyone's efforts pulled in nearly $880,000 in fundraising and sponsorship money. The only concern was another dip in participation. Trek's goal was 2,000 riders.
Organizers aren’t really sure why ridership is down, said Alli Neumann, the events coordinator for the MACC Fund.
But it’s a little concerning. Yes, some of the interesting trendy races – such as the
Beer Fit 5K – haven’t survived around these parts. But we’ve also lost a lot of big, fun events: NorthFace Endurance Challenge, Summerfest Rock N Sole , Bravado Challenge, White Deer Triathlon, Spartan Sprint stadium races. This will also be the final year of the Run S’more 24.
Father's Day is Sunday. Why not lace up the running or walking shoes, or roll out the bike, and sign up together for a fun run or ride? Alone or as a family, it doesn't matter. Create memories, participate in a community event to cherish the summer weather and do something healthy for an hour.