Preserving the Polar Bear

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2A Polar Bear run.jpg

Lincoln Calhoun (No. 9) takes off for the 40th annual Polar Bear Run in Bolivar last year. 

As a longtime runner and coach, Bolivar’s Ron Bandy knows all too well that, sometimes, great events don’t last.

“Most races last a couple of years, and then they’re gone,” the Bolivar High School cross country coach said. 

New events can be hard to get off the ground, and a good first-year turnout doesn’t guarantee a lasting impact, he said. 

So, when The Marketing Bunch’s Linda Bunch reached out to him 30 days ago about finding a way to keep the historic Polar Bear Run on the calendar, Bandy said he jumped at the opportunity.

The run has been hosted by the Roy Blunt YMCA of Bolivar in recent years. 

According to previous BH-FP coverage, Citizens Memorial Hospital helped sponsor the race with Miller’s Jewelry until the 15th race. After that, CMH, the Bolivar recreation department and the YMCA sponsored it.

Bunch said Friday, Feb. 7, she’d heard from the YMCA that it wouldn’t be able to sponsor this year, and that the race, just one year after celebrating its 40th anniversary, was in danger of being dropped. 

“We just kind of got our heads together, and I talked to the school and I talked to coach Bandy, and that’s how he got involved,” she said. 

Roy Blunt YMCA executive director Paula Shepard told the BH-FP Monday, Feb. 10, the organization has been proud to host the event for more than a decade. 

“Each year during budgeting season, all programs and activities are evaluated,” Shepard said. “This year, it was decided to transition the event to someone else to ensure its continued success.”

Despite the transition, Shepard said the organization’s goals are still paramount. 

“We are so excited to have the Bolivar Running Club take over this great event,” she said. “We are proud to be a part of this community and will continue to be guided by our mission to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all.”

 Bandy said the school’s cross country team can’t technically be associated with the race, per MSHSAA rules, so organizers created the Bolivar Running Club to host the event. According to a release from The Marketing Bunch, it will sponsor the event. 

According to the release, the run is the “longest standing continuous road race in southwest Missouri.”

This year’s race starts at 9 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, at the Southwest Baptist University Student Union.

Both 10k and 5k options are available. 

Registration is open at ActNowRacing.com. The entry fee for the 10k is $40 preregistered or $45 at the race. The 5k is $30 preregistered or $35 at the race. Runners who register by Friday, Feb. 14, will receive a sweatshirt and all runners will receive a welcome bag with items from local merchants, the release stated. 

Proceeds from the run will benefit the Bolivar cross country team, Bandy said. The new arrangement ensures a future for the Polar Bear Run and helps high school cross country runners, he said. 

“Given the tradition this event holds, we couldn’t hardly pass up the opportunity,” he said. 

And the tradition of the Polar Bear Run is big, Bandy said. 

He said he’s recently talked with his college running coach over the phone and the race happened to come up.

“He said, ‘Oh yeah, I remember that race,’” Bandy said, “all these years later.”

The Polar Bear course is iconic, he said, as are old stories of the rain, snow and cold that runners brave to cross the finish line. 

Bandy said organizers aren’t planning to make any changes. 

“They head up the hill on Lillian (Avenue) to get to the finish,” he said. “That’s a serious hill and that’s some of the draw, is that it's a challenging course with great elements in it.”

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