After expenses, the Armed Forces Families Foundation expects to clear $500,000 from Sunday’s inaugural Skyway 10K run.
Registration was capped at 7,000 runners – the six-mile race sold out quickly – and sponsors, contest winners and military families will raise the number to 7,500. They’re coming from 40 states, and four countries.
Brian Horne, the foundation’s event director, first conceived of a fundraising bridge run. He started by looking at two of the country’s most famous – South Carolina’s Cooper River Bridge Run, and the Annapolis Bay Bridge Run in Maryland.
“In Annapolis they sell out, 25,000 runners in November,” Horne, a St. Petersburg resident, says. “Not the best time of year to be in Maryland. Here, you’ve got one of the most beautiful bridges in the world in March. How could you go wrong?”
Many have tried, in the Sunshine Skyway Bridge’s 31-year history, to stage a charity run across the iconic structure. But pedestrians have not walked or run the bridge – or climbed to its apex, 200 feet above Tampa Bay -since a pre-opening ceremony on Feb. 7, 1987. The Skyway was officially opened to traffic that April.
“I think the reason this worked is that 100 percent of every dollar goes back to the Armed Forces Families Foundation,” explains Horne. “There was just an overwhelming support to see if we could pull this thing together.”
He and his team worked with 13 state, local and federal agencies. The Sunshine Skyway, as part of the country’s interstate highway system, comes under several jurisdictions.
Only the northbound lanes will be closed to traffic.
“We close the bridge at 4 a.m., and it has to be back open at 10,” Horne says. “A six-hour window. We need a couple of hours to secure the bridge, make it safe, then we’ve got to bus thousands of people over there, and then bus them back safely after the run.”
The group has leased 150 buses to transport runners, guests, media and others to and from the staging area at Tropicana Field to the race’s starting line at the southside rest area. Once the race is over, the buses will take them back to the Trop for closing ceremonies.
The race will be run “rain or shine,” although lightning or high winds (neither of which is forecast) could cause the Florida Highway Patrol to cancel for safety reasons.
FHP officers will be stationed along the route, with “water units” (officers in boats) down below, just in case.
As custodians of all Skyway traffic, FHP was involved with planning the Skyway 10K from the beginning.
“We picked a day with the lowest volume of traffic, affecting the least number of people,” explains Sgt. Steve Gaskins. “The Armed Forces people are reimbursing the state’s expenses, so they’re paying not only for the officers you’ll see out there, but for the traffic cones and other safety features. And they’re repaying the state for the lost toll revenue.”