FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — More than 100 runners, several sporting bunny ears, turned out for the Bunny Hop 5K Fun Run April 10 at Davidson Fitness Center.
“It felt great to have some type of normality coming back,” said Michel Garcia, the first runner to cross the finish line, with a time of 20 minutes, 37 seconds.
Garcia was one of many participants and organizers who welcomed the return of in-person running events on Fort Leonard Wood after a year and half break due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Saturday’s run was the first such event held by Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation since the November 2019 Turkey Trot.
While runners weren’t required to wear masks while competing, many did anyway, as did all support staff — including the Easter Bunny, who passed out candy eggs to participants as they crossed the finish line.
“It is so exciting to see actual people at our events,” said Megan O’Donoghue, FMWR director.
“We are still taking our mitigation measures, of course, but it’s exciting to see people in our facilities and utilizing our programs,” she said.
While forecasted rain held off during the event, skies were overcast, and runners had to deal with 20-mile-per-hour winds with temperatures at and below 50 degrees.
“The weather was a little chilly, but not anything bad — it didn’t rain or anything,” said Jayelyn Lewis, who was the first female runner to cross the finish line with a time of 23:53.
Lewis, a second lieutenant with the 2nd Battalion, 48th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Chemical Brigade, was also glad to have the competition available.
“It was good, especially coming out of COVID, because they hadn’t had a lot of community events like this,” she said. “The course was well planned out; the road was well blocked and there wasn’t much traffic, so it was a good course.”
Saturday’s race was the first of what FMWR officials hope are several running competitions to come, according to Eli Wil-son, Community Activities manager.
“We are planning on doing a set of these types of fun runs mixed in with some competitive runs, as well,” he said. “The next one we’re going to do is going to be a 5K and 10K chip-timed competitive run, and then we’ll have some runs throughout the year with different themes. This is one of the first activities we’ve had with people in quite a while, and we’re excited about that and looking forward to doing more things.”
Saturday’s race was held by the FMWR Installation Wide Events office in conjunction with FMWR Sports, Fitness and Aquatics. The event also benefitted from several service-member volunteers, including members of the Better Opportunities for Single Service Members program.
“Volunteering is one of the main reasons we exist, being at events like these, where we can give back to the community,” said Abner Mondoloka, a specialist with the 399th Army Band and treasurer of the BOSS program.
Mondoloka watched over the timing clock and, along with other volunteers, cheered for runners as they finished the course. He said it was the first in-person community event he had been able to volunteer for in 18 months.
“Seeing that large group of people running with the bunny ears was refreshing, to say the least,” he said. “(Volunteering) just creates a positive impact loop, and it’s really rewarding for me and the other BOSS members, as well.”
Several runners are looking forward to the next race, including Garcia, a Marine staff sergeant with the U.S. Marine Corps Detachment.
“I like what MWR is doing,” he said. “It’s good for morale (and) it’s good for the community.”