If you happen to stroll by the bronze statue of the tortoise and hare at Van Cortlandt Park on Sunday, you’ll likely come upon a very enthusiastic group of people gathering for a milestone event.
It was 10 years ago when Richard Conley and his fellow board members of Mosaic, a Riverdale-based mental health organization, concocted the idea of staging a 5K race as a means of raising both money and awareness for mental health. Fast forward a decade and the race — which had very humble beginnings — has grown into a yearly fundraiser and celebration that not only has steadily grown in numbers, but also has helped lessen the stigma of mental health.
“At one of our board meetings we got into a discussion on how could we get visibility and raise money, and the idea of a 5K came up,” Conley said. “And being a member of the running community, I’ve been a member of the Van Cortlandt Track Club since the mid-‘90s, I understood somewhat the logistics of putting a race together, and that was the inception. I can’t believe we’re sitting here talking about the 10th year of this event. It just shows you how fast time goes.”
The 10th annual Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies 5K Run/Walk will start with registration at 9 a.m., with the race itself commencing at 11. It has not only become a vehicle to raise funds for Mosaic’s mental health programs, but has become an annual event for the many runners who are regulars.
“It’s so lovely to see everyone come together,” said Giulia Matthews, Mosaic’s communications director. “My favorite runners are a group of older women who call themselves ‘The Warriors.’ They are my absolute favorite. They come every year and walk, and just love it.”
There also is a dance group.
“Wait until you see that at a race,” Conley said. “They put together a routine about Mosaic and the services they deliver, and they do their gig just prior to the race/walk starting. It’s amazing.”
When the first race stepped off in 2009, for the group then known as Riverdale Mental Health Association, participation numbers were low. But both the amount of runners and the money raised have steadily increased over the years.
“It’s grown incrementally,” Conley said, with between 50 and 60 runners in the early years, to as many as 130 in more recent years.
“And I expect we’ll hit that number again this year,” Conley added.
Last year’s event was particularly successful when it came to money.
“We raised $40,000, which was wonderful for an event where you have 125 to 150 registrants,” Conley said, “People on the board and the management of Mosaic have connections, and everyone out there pushes the theme this great community event has stressed from the beginning, ‘Healthy minds, healthy bodies.’
“It’s a great theme. It’s very simple, but true.”
Conley has tried to keep registration costs low — $20 for adults, $10 for senior citizens and students younger than 21, and $40 for families — in hopes of bringing more people from the community into the fold.
“It’s not a high-cost event,” said Conley, who will run this year’s race for the first time. “Our registration fee has always been low. It’s truly a community event, and you feel good about that.”
Even with the growth, Conley is taking steps to ensure the event doesn’t become too large.
“You don’t want to get too big,” he said. “I think 100 to 150 people is great. I’m very comfortable with our numbers. If you had a thousand people, there might be some headaches. So it is a manageable event that accomplishes what we’re looking for it to accomplish relative to exposure for Mosaic, their programs, and the importance of having a community event.”
The 5K has been a tremendous help not only to Mosaic’s ability to assist its clients, but also in shedding a different light on mental health in general, Matthews said.
“The money goes to general support for programs we run like clinical services, supportive housing, vocational services, and services for seniors,” Matthews said. “And it does accomplish the idea that mental health is very much part of health in general, and it’s lovely to see all these people coming together and supporting mental health.
“Events like this help destigmatize mental health. You see all these people walking together and running together and having a good time. This is what we want to accomplish, that mental health and body health go together.”
To learn more about the race, email Giulia Matthews at email@example.com.