City catalyst

October 3, 2018

Maybe you were one of the more than 7,400 runners who ran one the races Saturday, or one of the 1,500 volunteers who made it all happen. Maybe you cheered them on at Parkview Field or navigated around the downtown traffic and closures during the Fort4Fitness Fall Festival Saturday.

All of it sprang from an idea Tim Kenesey had 11 years ago.

“In 2007, I happened to see three things coming together,” Kenesey, the CEO of MedPro, a national health-industry insurance company, recalled in an interview Tuesday.

Number one on that list is still a problem: “Health care costs for employees are going up and companies need to promote fitness,“Kenesey said. Second was “some stupid magazine” naming Fort Wayne one of the fattest cities in America. And third : registration for “the Indianapolis Mini was sold out.”

Graham Richard was still mayor when Kenesey broached his idea. Another early supporter was Mike Packnett, president and CEO of Parkview Health, whose company has been a major sponsor each year since.

A new mayor, Tom Henry, was on hand when the first Fort4Fitness, in September 2008, began and ended in Freimann Square. It featured a half-marathon and a four-mile race and drew almost 3,000 runners. The following year, the health fair and races moved to the newly opened Parkview Field, where they’ve been ever since.

The smorgasbord of healthy events has grown every year. Now last weekend’s races are known as the Fall Festival and feature a 10K as well as marathons for kids and seniors, in which participants walk a mile a week and finish their last mile at Parkview Field. The Spring Cycling event comprises races of 10 miles to 100K. The third annual Fantasy of Lights : a 2K and 5K : will be Nov. 17 and 18.

“We wanted to show people that even in a climate as cold as Fort Wayne’s, you can exercise year-round,” Kenesey said.

Overall race participation was down 11 percent at this year’s festival, said Sami Blair, marketing and communications coordinator, something she attributed to the increasing number of choices runners have for shorter-route competitions. But there were 220 marathon registrants : the most ever.

“Whether it’s up or down a little bit is not a huge concern,” Kenesey said. “Our goal is to inspire fitness and healthy living in Greater Fort Wayne.” If competing events can do that as well, “that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.”

The city hasn’t been fat-shamed in any national surveys lately, but there’s an ever-growing awareness that our community and state face outsized health problems, including high rates of diabetes and smoking as well as obesity. Fort4Fitness offers one way to fight back.

It also connects the community in an unexpected way, as other groups use the races to raise money for and awareness of charitable causes.

“I didn’t realize that an event like this could act as a catalyst,” Kenesey said. “I think it’s been very, very positive.”

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