Shelby Township charity run closes out 14 years supporting Special Olympics

By: Joshua Gordon | Shelby - Utica News | Published August 20, 2018


SHELBY TOWNSHIP — The 14th annual Gopher the Gold charity run didn’t have as much participation as in previous years, but organizers of the event that benefits the Special Olympics still called the final iteration of the race a success.

Race Co-Director Michael Ward said that they had around 240 participants this year across all categories of the 5K race, as well as the kids fun run. While he didn’t have final numbers from the 2018 event, Ward said that during the event’s 14 years, it raised about $75,000 for the Special Olympics.

However, because of the complications with another local race and the time that it takes to plan Gopher the Gold, Ward said this was the last year for the event.

“The biggest issue was a problem with scheduling, and we ended up on a Sunday in July,” Ward said. “We have had issues pop up and didn’t have as many runners. It’s just too much time and effort.”

Ward said that in the past, the event has included a 10K race and they have seen around 600 runners in recent years. A bad year in the past was around 350 participants, but scheduling hurt the turnout this year.

This year, the event took place July 22 at River Bends Park in Shelby Township.

But Ward said it was a great event that people enjoyed, and he was glad to be able to help the Special Olympics athletes from Shelby Township. In the first year, the event had around 150 people, which Ward said was great for a first-time race.

Ward said 100 percent of the proceeds go to the Macomb County Special Olympics and specifically to a group that Shelby Township Parks, Recreation and Maintenance Director Joe Youngblood takes up to the annual event at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant.

Youngblood said he typically takes 16 athletes to the Summer Special Olympic Games at CMU, and 14 to the Winter Games. The Gopher the Gold charity event has been a blessing to help support the athletes, he said.

“All the effort that goes into these events and the funds raised all these years, the best thing is it gave the (Special Olympics) athletes a great time,” Youngblood said. “Without the Gopher the Gold, many athletes would not have been able to go to the Olympic Games. It was an amazing event, and not only for the money, but for families to go out and enjoy our park.”

In 2016, Ward also helped set up the Run the Creek 5K glow run at Shelby Township’s Cherry Creek Golf Course, a run that also supports the Special Olympics. The event has been held in April in its first two years.

Having the opportunity to support the Special Olympics athletes has made organizing the runs worth it, Ward said, even as Gopher the Gold has wrapped up for the last time.

“To see the looks in the kids’ eyes when they go to the Olympics, it is very rewarding,” Ward said. “To see them accomplish something like that and overcome whatever disability they have, and work hard through that and get a medal, it is awesome.

“The biggest thing about this event was it provided an opportunity for kids to go out of town and participate in something good for them to be involved in.”