GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Women and girls took over downtown Grand Rapids for the Gazelle Sports SHE RUNS 5K, 10K and a half marathon Sunday morning.

It was the 11th year of the event, and organizers expected around 1,800 participants. It started as Gazelle Girl in 2013 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Title IX. Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, the race changed its name to SHE RUNS Grand Rapids.

Kierstyn Carlson and Evie Damstra with their mothers.

Among the racers was 9-year-old Kierstyn Carlson. She was born with spina bifida and is unable to walk. She did the My Team Triumph 5K with her best friend, Evie Damstra. Kierstyn’s goal was to get through the race as much as she could, wheeling herself throughout the course. 

“I’m really proud of her,” Damstra said.

Brook Breeding has participated in the SHE RUNS Grand Rapids before, but it was her first race back since 2019. She struggled during the pandemic and had no motivation to get out and run like she used to. 

Breeding formerly ran in various races across the city because running was her passion, and it kept her active. She eventually found her way back when she made her physical and mental health a priority again.

“You stop doing things, and the body starts to deteriorate, and unless you give yourself goals, you don’t do anything. So, I get to come out here. I get to run with my community, particularly the women in my community. Women runners are so great. They’re so supportive of each other,” she said.

Kristen Aidif, race director, said she was thrilled that the weather conditions were favorable for the participants. Though the number of participants isn’t back to pre-pandemic levels, she remains optimistic about next year. She hopes that any woman who hasn’t returned to her normal routine of running will find motivation.

“With SHE RUNS Grand Rapids, we have so much training support and such an encouraging environment. We start things off in October for this next year, 2024. Think about joining us. Take that first step for the 5K,10K, half marathon and come out with some friends. It’s an amazing feeling to be part of something like this in your community,” Aidif said.

A hundred percent of the event profits will be donated to Girls on the Run and the YWCA of West Central Michigan.