Late Tuesday night came the words that 50,000 or so runners in Spokane were afraid to hear: Bloomsday would not be held in May.
It seemed an inevitability, with Gov. Inslee’s orders shutting down all schools, restaurants, entertainment and recreation facilities and mass gatherings in the state, that an event expected to host tens of thousands in a few short weeks would be forced to announce the decision to do the same.
That news came via press release on Tuesday – but it came with a silver lining.
Race manager Jon Neill announced the annual 12-kilometer race through Spokane would be postponed – not canceled, as some feared – until Sept. 20 because of the novel coronavirus.
Neill said it was a difficult decision for him, and for everybody involved with Bloomsday.
“It sure was, and we didn’t take the decision lightly,” he said on Wednesday.
“We certainly did our due diligence, making sure that we were monitoring the situation very carefully. Reflecting back a week ago seems like a year ago, just as these developments just kept coming out and out, and when we were going from gatherings that were no larger than 250, and then it was down to 50, and then it was down to 10.
“It escalated so quickly that there became a point where we just knew that we were not able to host Bloomsday on the first Sunday of May.”
It’s not easy changing the date of an event of this magnitude, considering the number of city and county agencies, sponsors, volunteers and athletes involved.
“What has driven the success of Bloomsday is that everybody knows that this race is an event, and it’s bigger than any one person, and that this is the community’s treasure,” Neill said. “And therefore, we need to protect it and safeguard it on that level.”
Neill praised all involved in the decision.
“With the assistance of city leadership, the assistance of the Public Facilities District, and likewise just coordinating with our valued sponsors, we were able to fortunately – and we do think that we won the scheduling lottery – host this on Sept. 20, which is typically just a fabulous fall weekend in Spokane, weather-wise.”
Neill said the plan is to provide everything they would normally for Bloomsday in May on the new date in September.
“We will have the trade show, we will run the exact same 12-kilometer course, and all the festivities that go along with Bloomsday, so we’re really looking forward to it.”
The Bloomsday offices, and Neill personally, have been inundated with feedback after the announcement, both through the general media and through social media channels.
“It’s been very good,” Neill said of the reaction of the race moving to September. “People are really excited and that’s, I think it’s something we all wanted at Bloomsday – a little bit of light, a little bit of joy, a little bit of color, a little bit of boost the spirits – and I think everyone is kind of embracing the fact that Bloomsday is not canceled, it’s just down the road a bit.
“The show must go on, and it will in September.”
As the number of participants allowed in gatherings kept diminishing, and social distancing became the norm, Bloomsday officials saw the handwriting on the wall for their rite of spring.
“As we got word about about social distancing 6 feet apart, it became a question of, ‘How will that work?’ The situation evolved so rapidly,” Neill said.
“We remained optimistic. One of the things that we wanted to make sure is that the unthinkable and unimaginable – that Bloomsday wouldn’t happen in 2020 – we wanted to make sure that we got ourselves a date in the fall to host this spectacular event.”
Bloomsday is dependent on a variety of public and private sector entities – and the general public itself – and it was no small task to ensure those things aligned to shift the event four months into the future.
“Bloomsday happens, year after year, because we have such an extraordinary team of volunteers,” Neill said. “We’ve got crew chiefs that are assigned to every area and exploring this possibility, along with our community partners, the city of Spokane, the PFD, the Health District, of course, in keeping us updated, as well as our downtown partnership.
“All of those things – it requires the input of of everyone – to be able to say, ‘Yes,’ with this. That this is something that’s doable, and something that we can execute on, so it will be the same way that Bloomsday happens every year.
“We will certainly be reliant on the 4,500 to 5,000 volunteers that make the magic happen.”
Neill said the Bloomsday Board of Directors consists of roughly 15 people who were involved in the decision-making process, in addition to 14 major sponsors and the Professional Road Running Organization (PRRO), to find a new date that worked for everyone.
“The decision for Sept. 20 was kind of what you would expect,” he said. “Is that a weekend where there’s other conflicts, other scheduled events, that would prohibit us from from moving into that weekend? Is it something where the downtown core is available to us? Is the convention center available to us? Fortunately, all those things all lined up, and so we were able to commit to that weekend.”
The close-knit board was instrumental in making the process work, Neill said.
“We’ve never had to cancel Bloomsday,” he said. “And so we needed to make sure that we keep this community spirit alive. With our group, we were able to decide that yeah, this is something that we can swing, and we can do with the same level of precision as we do normally.”
The PRRO schedule this year, as with most things, is in turmoil. The Cherry Blossom 10-mile, scheduled for April 5 in Washington, D.C., had to be canceled due to a lack of reschedule date. Bloomsday followed in chronological order.
The circuit’s ‘crown jewel,’ the 15K Boilermaker Road Race in Utica, New York, is still on schedule for July 12 – for now.
“I think everyone is having to look at this and make sure that it’s feasible for them,” Neill said of his fellow race directors. “The other reality, too, is that the decisions are being made for us, with the governor’s decree and likewise with the Health District, and all of those naturally have the best interest of the community in mind.”
Neill is encouraged by this year’s registration numbers – virus or not.
“We have had robust early registration numbers,” he said. “We were obviously very excited about that. But even more amazing was that even with all of this, even with school closures and businesses closing and sequestering taking place – folks continue to register, and volunteers continue to commit, and bands continue to commit to be our course entertainment.
“That’s really resonated with us – that’s the spirit of Bloomsday, the spirit of the community, and you know, with these dark times, folks are looking for that.
“It’s overwhelming to know that there’s enough people out there to think to themselves, ‘Bloomsday has to happen.’ ”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.