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story.lead_photo.caption The Sentinel-Record/Grace Brown RACE MEDAL: An employee for Tri-Lakes Court Appointed Special Advocates on Thursday displays one of the race medals for the First Ever First Annual World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Zero K footrace. - Photo by Grace Brown

The First Ever First Annual World's Shortest St. Patrick's Zero K footrace has transcended its original purpose as a simple, fun, festive event to raise funds for Tri-Lakes Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA.

Thanks in part to its short 299-foot course and uniqueness, the race has attracted 460 registrants -- more than double the expected 200.

The race will have three heats, the first being a speed heat where runners will attempt to set their fastest times possible. Second will be the Leprechaun Dash, where contestants are encouraged to wear their most festive St. Patrick's day outfits or dress as a leprechaun.

But it is the last and slowest heat, the Last Place Shootout, that has attracted many grandchildren and grandparents, entire families, and individuals with special needs.

This race will award a prize to the last contestant to cross the finish line while maintaining a forward motion.

"At first we all just thought it was all fun and games and kind of a zany event. You know, just another fun and quirky thing around the St. Patrick's Day Parade. But then it turned out that it's more than that. It's giving people who wouldn't normally think they could be in a race to be in the race," Visit Hot Springs Director of Marketing Bill Solleder said.

"We've been saying this race is for everybody, but it's taken on a completely different meaning. It's been great. We didn't think it would have that impact on people," said Desternie Sullivan, CASA executive director and race organizer.

Solleder shared the story of one particularly notable contestant as an example of the inclusive nature of the race.

He was contacted by a man who had completed 32 marathons, but due to an injury, now uses a walker and can no longer run in a typical race.

Upon learning about the Zero K, he registered for the slowest heat and now has the opportunity to compete once again.

"It was great for us. Initially, it was just for walkers. But now that heat has become a way for lots of elders, disabled, and children to feel like they have a place," said Sullivan.

Not only has the unique event attracted a varied local crowd, but racers from around the nation, as well.

"They were debating if they should allow a late registrant. But someone called from Minnesota. And so Desternie, I believe, the executive director, gave up her registration to give to this guy because he's coming from Minnesota. And I quote, 'has been training for two years for this race,'" said Solleder.

Participants from Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin will be competing.

The contestant who makes the longest journey to Hot Springs will receive a special prize.

Solleder estimates the race has raised nearly $10,000, all of which will go to Tri-Lakes CASA.

Thanks to donations, the cost of race finisher medals and T-shirts, as well as advertising, will be covered.

"Things have just skyrocketed. It blew my mind. It's not what we originally thought it would be, but we love that," said Sullivan.

For those who missed the registration deadline and want to participate, there will an opportunity next spring.

"It looks like we've got ourselves a hit and I look forward to bringing in at least a thousand next year," said Solleder.

The race will take place today at 6 p.m. on 98-foot-long Bridge Street, where the parade will be held on Sunday.

Local on 03/15/2019

Print Headline: Zero K Last Place Shootout takes on different meaning

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