Chuck and Janet Boehme’s neighbors always know when Bloomsday weekend is approaching. The flowering cherry tree in their front yard sprouts new colors. “I take all my old Bloomsday shirts and hang them on hangers on our tree,” Janet Boehme said.
For the Boehmes and other families, Bloomsday is more than a 12K race – it’s a much-anticipated family tradition. A reason to celebrate spring and enjoy time together.
“Everyone goes different directions for Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Boehme said, “but we all come together for Bloomsday.”
She’s run 35 Bloomsdays – the last 15 with family. This year 15 members of the clan will gather and 13 will run. They’re a pretty competitive group, so they don’t stick together during the race. “We all have different paces, so we just meet up at the Nordstrom coffee bar after the race,” said Boehme.
For other families experiencing the course together is a big part of the fun.
Jan Gilliam participated in her first Bloomsday in 1987 and was immediately hooked. “It’s a two-hour moving party through the streets of Spokane!” she said. “An early Sunday morning urban hike.”
Her love of the race proved contagious and she roped in her daughter, Katie Streit, when Katie was in sixth grade. Soon after, her younger sister joined the party. And for this family, it is a party.
The festivities start the night before. “I host a Cinco de Mayo party on Saturday,” Gilliam said.
Streit laughed. “One year we overdid the margaritas and now we proceed with caution!”
The event has grown to include Streit’s husband and this year her 8-month-old son. “I did it while pregnant last year,” she recalled. “Boy was it rough!”
Streit comes from Whidbey Island for Bloomsday and her sister flies in from Phoenix. Their group does the race together, often wearing neon shirts paired with wild and crazy socks. Race traditions include posing for photos with the vulture at the top of Doomsday Hill and dancing and singing whenever possible.
“I always say, I’ve never RUN Bloomsday,” Gilliam said. “That’s my approach. It really is a celebration of spring and of community.”
Bethany Siemers ran her first Bloomsday as a third-grader in 1988. Her mom was the instigator. “My mom has run 27 consecutive Bloomsdays,” Siemers said.
By 2004, when she and her three siblings started having babies, they all moved to the stroller section. “We used to laugh at the people who bought ice cream along the race route,” she said. “Now, we get ice cream sandwiches and Otter Pops.”
They’ve also incorporated breastfeeding breaks along the race. “Mile 3 at the cemetery,” Siemers said. “And we all stay together.”
The fun starts on Saturday night. “I host a big spaghetti dinner,” she said. “And we have ice cream cake for dessert.”
She laughed. “It’s not like we’re training for anything!”
Family participation has declined a bit over the years as the children have gotten older and have other spring sports commitments. “Plus a lot of them are more interested in Hoopfest, now.”
But for Siemers, Bloomsday is still the best family activity around.
“It’s so fun to be part of the big group and get through it together,” she said. “It feels like a big family mission.”
This year marks Valerie Shelton’s 25th Bloomsday. “I’ve always done it with my family,” she said. “It started with me and my sister, and when she moved away I roped my mother-in-law in to doing it with me!”
The Shelton clan has one goal in mind and it’s not to set any course records. “We want to get on the news!” she said.
In 2001, they wore matching red T-shirts with footprints on the back. The shirts read “Follow us.” The costume idea exploded from there.
They’ve been Flockin’ Flamingos with pink feather boa tails. They’ve been Qwackers with duck bill hats and orange knee socks. “We waddled. We quacked,” Shelton said. “Our outfits are eye-catching.”
Some costumes were more successful than others. Last year the group was MisBeehavin. Their bee outfits proved to be quite a hit with a group of Japanese girls from Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute, as well as with local firefighters.
“We always pose for pictures with the Mukogawa girls,” Shelton said. “And we always stop at the fire station and get a photo with the firemen. How can you not do that?”
Less successful was the year they dressed up as different flowers. She said, “We decided our feet needed to be roots and tied red and brown embroidery thread to our feet. We were not proud of that one.”
She’s more optimistic about this year’s choice. “We’re going to be Ninja Turtles!”
They’ve painted aluminum turkey roasting pans green for their shells and will wear green tutus and green shorts. “We go all out for Bloomsday,” said Shelton. “We wouldn’t spend this kind of money on Halloween, but we do it for Bloomsday.”
Shelton expects 13 to 15 family members and friends to don Ninja Turtle gear and experience the fun along the race route.
The best part? “Spending time together and all the laughing we do. We laugh our way through the race.”
For Tom Owen, Bloomsday offers proof that you can go home again. Originally, from Newport, Washington, he ran his first Bloomsday in 1984 while a student at Washington State University.
“Each year, no matter where I was living, I’ve always returned to Spokane for the run. After marriage and three kids, the whole family has made it an annual tradition,” he said.
This year, they’ll be flying in from their home in Arizona.
When his sons were small they put them in baby joggers, but now the boys try to beat their time from the previous year.
“We still have connections and family in the area,” Owen said, “and Bloomsday is a good reason to come home.”
In some cases the runner’s soul is passed down from one generation to the next. Susy Anderson, from Ephrata, Washington, has her 83-year-old uncle, Pete Martin, to thank for her introduction to Bloomsday.
Martin ran his first Bloomsday at age 75. Alhough he’s had hip and knee replacement surgeries, he’s vowed to run 10 Bloomsdays. “Somebody must’ve hit me on the head,” Martin said, chuckling. “But I like to get out there. I go to the gym three days a week.”
For Anderson, walking Bloomsday with her uncle is a blessing. Both of her parents are deceased, and Martin, her dad’s brother, fills her in on family history as they walk. “He tells me stories about my dad as a teenager – about the pranks they pulled in high school,” she said.
Four generations will walk together this year. “My daughter, nephew and great-niece will be joining Uncle Pete and me,” Anderson said.
This is Martin’s ninth Bloomsday, but he’s not ruling out continuing past his 10 year vow. He said, “If I’m not hobbling around too badly, I’m going for year 11.”