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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Tradition returns Sunday as Bloomsday participants, spectators welcome annual spring race

Aimee McElroy cools off in a spray of water at the top of Doomsday Hill during Bloomsday 2023 on Sunday in Spokane.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)

It’s back to business as usual for Bloomsday.

Thousands of runners, walkers and watchers flooded downtown Sunday for Spokane’s iconic 12K.

After a two-year virtual hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, runners cautiously came back in 2022, but this year the event was more typical of Bloomsdays past with a larger group of participants.

Registrations for the 2023 race continued to rebound after falling during the COVID-19 pandemic, though participation remained well below its historical highs of more than 60,000 runners in the early 1990s.

As of Sunday morning, about 30,000 people had registered to run in person in Spokane, said Bethany Lueck, sponsorship and communications coordinator for the event. Another 3,570 had registered to run the race virtually.

The race reported 29,544 people had registered both in person and for the virtual race last year.

A pair of neon jumpsuits stood out in the crowd of Bloomies waiting to get on their way at the start in downtown Spokane. Jessy Mendoza wrapped his arm around his girlfriend, Rosie Rodrigues, eager to get going on his first Bloomsday.

“I’m nervous,” Mendoza said with a chuckle.

The couple are big retro fans. Donning colorful ’80s jumpsuits is just one more thing that makes the race extra special, they said.

“It’s our first family run,” Mendoza said, turning to Rodrigues, who just found out she’s pregnant.

After several days of record-tying or record-breaking heat last week, the weather on Sunday cooperated with Bloomies. Clouds were overhead most of a day that began with downtown temperatures in the upper 40s, rising to near 60 degrees by the time most people were on the course.

After years of running Bloomsday, John Pringle, 58, was ready to mix things up. He started wearing a kilt.

“I’m Irish, so I figured why not,” he said of the now decade-old tradition.

This year, Pringle wore his “utilikilt,” which is like a pair of cargo pants but in kilt form. He enjoys the odd looks he gets from onlookers and his fellow racers as he jogs by.

“I’m feeling that breeze today,” Pringle said with a chuckle.

For Ricky Bobby, Bloomsday is a party. Wearing American flag shorts and a beer mug top hat, Bobby was ready for a good time.

“It’s five o’clock somewhere,” he quipped.

Last year, Bobby rejected the beers friends offered throughout the course, but this year he was taking a different approach: drinking them all.

“The pace is just to finish,” he said.

Metal band Perfect Destruction riffed chunky power chords from the driveway of a home on Lindeke Street, just before the left-hand turn onto Broadway Avenue. The spare metalheads amid the last of the Bloomsday crowd cheered along with the sounds of the four-piece band.

Perfect Destruction began performing in the heart of West Central well over a decade ago, adding something heavier to Bloomsday’s eclectic lineup of accordions and disco. Dale Wills, the band’s manager, wasn’t sure if they were ever going to perform again after the pandemic struck in 2020.

“This has been a really great year,” said Wills. “Bigger than last year.”

Jazz fusion from Mexican, Ukrainian and Zambian immigrants filled the air a block away in the corner lawn of the Westminster Presbyterian Church.

“The energy has been super positive,” said World Relief Development Director Barbara Comito, in between snapping photos of runners at a photo booth.

Back at the starting line, Carrie Stauffer bent down to stretch as her group prepared to take off. Stauffer hates running, even wearing an “I don’t like to run” T-shirt for the race, which she has been completing since middle school.

Stauffer is a walker now, enjoying the community spirit that comes with the event.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Stauffer said. “And I want the shirt.”

The finisher shirt reveal is always a Bloomsday highlight. Gonzaga Law School students Alison Woodruff and Emma Dugenske woke up extra early to volunteer at one of the tables handing out the prized tees.

“It’s fun to see the release first,” Dugenske said.

The pair had to wait until the first starting shot rang out before opening the boxes, Woodruff said. Handing out the shirts is a fun way to be involved and partake in the joy of the race, they said.

“It’s their ‘medal,’ so they’re excited to get it,” Dugenske said.

Shirts are big talkers during Bloomsday, especially the elusive perennial tee, indicating runners have completed all 47 races.

Sylvia Quinn, 87, is one of the small group. She spent years as the race’s director, typically running the course twice.

She attributes Bloomsday’s success to its welcoming atmosphere.

“We made it an event, not a race,” Quinn said.

This year, Quinn blazed through the course on her new hip.

“It keeps me young,” she said after crossing the finish line.

Spotting a perennial is cause for celebration, especially at the finish line. Other runners stopped to shake Quinn’s hand or congratulate her.

“Proud of you,” she responded to one finisher.

Bloomies made it through the course without injury this year. Medical personnel responded to just 10 calls during the race, said Spokane Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer, which were for chest pain, a couple of falls and one unconscious person. The lack of injuries is something Schaeffer attributes to both the community and the weather.

“I think people came prepared,” Schaeffer said.

Inside the medical aid tent on the north side of Dutch Jake Park, Air Force medic Nathan Simmons kept an eye out for runners showing symptoms of dehydration or shock. He and the other volunteers, dressed in their red vests, all from the Air Force or Veterans Administration, were looking for people who seem dazed, discolored or who weren’t sweating.

By noon, the worst thing they’d treated were some bumps and bruises, said Richard Maysonet, another medical volunteer who is also an emergency room tech at the VA.

“It’s about being part of the community,” Maysonet said.

Simmons, who is originally from Wisconsin, has never participated in Bloomsday. He wanted to see it for himself, which is why he volunteered for the event.

“I had no idea that it eventually came to this,” he said, pointing to the droves of runners and walkers still marching forward in a steady stream. “I think it’s really cool to see.”

It was the first Bloomsday for Nikki Stretch, and the 15th Bloomsday for Jaime Vanderpool, both teachers at the Central Valley Early Learning Center, who were walking the course together.

“I had some anxiety about (Doomsday Hill),” Stretch said, referring to the steep ascent that comes about five miles into the race. But Vanderpool was there to guide her.

In the end, it wasn’t that hard, Stretch said.

“Never been interested. Out of shape,” were Stretch’s reasons for not participating previously.

Last year Stretch broke her ankle, but she wanted to prove she could still be active this year.

“It’s only 7 miles,” she said.

Plus, her 12-year-old daughter wanted to try Bloomsday. She’ll be back next year, she said.

Red-faced and slightly out of breath, Dave Gilbert and his 11-year-old son, Henry, paused for a post-race selfie.

It was Henry’s first Bloomsday.

“It was good. It was tiring and awesome,” Henry said.

The best part was finishing Doomsday Hill.

“He made it look easy,” Gilbert said with a proud smile.

A few yards ahead, finishers flowed around Gene Blankenship, who slouched in a chair parked in the middle of the Monroe Street Bridge.

Blankenship, 81, has been an area track and cross country coach for 43 years. He and his team from Medical Lake High School manned the water table at the finish line for the elite runners.

Then Blankenship set up his chair to watch the crowd.

“I like watching the people come in, and I know a lot of people,” he said. “They stop and say ‘hi’ to me and it makes me feel good.”

As finishers grabbed their prized shirts and caught up with friends, many admired the black T-shirt with a neon runner striding across the front.

“I just like the vibrant colors,” said Kirsten Allen.

A friend in her group jumped in. “It’s a sweet shirt,” Jared Rose said.

Sometimes the finisher shirt ends up in Rose’s pajama drawer, he admitted, but not this year. He compared the shirt to a car with everyday use.

“This is a daily driver,” Rose said.

Staff writer Quinn Welsch contributed to this report.