In the decade since Sierra Krizman’s life was claimed by meningitis, Sierra’s Race Against Meningitis 5K run in her honor to raise awareness of the disease and immunizing vaccines for it has grown to draw thousands annually.
Don Stonebrink, one of more than 1,000 runners to finish the 2017 installment of the 5K Saturday at Foundations Church in Loveland, remembers being one of around just 100 runners his first time participating.
“My sister had a friend who died of meningitis and she asked me to run for a good cause, in the second or third year (of Sierra’s Race),” said Stonebrink, who has run it each year since. “I’m amazed at how much it’s grown, just seeing the number of sponsors lined up along the way and the support.
This year, a two-time Paralympic medalist was even among the honored guests at Sierra’s Race.
Nick Springer, a meningitis survivor, amputee and medalist with Team USA’s wheelchair rugby team in both the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London games, spoke to runners and their families in the church’s sanctuary following the run.
With a moving speech that described his costly bout with meningitis, Springer encouraged participants as well as parents to ensure they and their children are vaccinated against the often-deadly disease.
Inside the church, Sierra’s Race organizers had 400 meningitis vaccine doses ready to administer for free to those needing an immunization shot, Springer said. There were even doses to prevent a newer and lesser-known strain of the disease called meningitis B, he said.
“This is one of the best events I’ve been to,” Springer said in an interview, adding that he has been speaking at meningitis awareness rallies for 10 years. “To be able to not just say you need to go get the vaccine, but that you can do it right here, right now, this event sets the bar really high.”
Free bracelets were given out, and T-shirts and other apparel with the Sierra’s Race logo were also available for purchase as the band After the Fire performed classic rock and blues hits outside the church as runners crossed the finish line.
Sierra’s father, Jon Krizman, acknowledged the many volunteers that help organize the event make it possible to vaccinate up to 500 people for free each year, plus provide entertainment and speakers like Springer at the fundraising run. Runners paid $30 to register.
“It’s great keeping (Sierra’s) memory alive,” Jon Krizman said. “There’s a lot of positive energy and support for our family. The reason we’re able to do this is the volunteers that put a lot of work and hours into this.”
As Springer spoke to a crowd in the sanctuary, slides with pictures of Sierra rolled across screens, and more than a dozen posters with photos of both survivors of meningitis and those whose lives it has taken were displayed in the front of the church.
“Every day I take pride in being able to save lives by promoting vaccinations,” Springer said.
For the run, the right amount of cloud cover kept temperatures from rising high enough to make racers uncomfortably hot as it went into the mid-morning.
Still, as top finishers in age group divisions received prizes, Stonebrink quipped he remembers not struggling through the race in the past as much as he did Saturday.
“It gets harder every year the older I get,” Stonebrink joked.
In truth, he finished with a pace just over seven minutes per mile, as runners of absolutely all ages — toddlers, teens, parents and grandparents — raced for the cause.
If you missed receiving a meningitis vaccination at Sierra’s Race on Saturday and you need one, you can call the Larimer County Health Department’s Loveland office to schedule one at 970-679-4580.