There’s always a buzz surrounding the annual Little Rock marathon, especially known for its larger than life medals and packed to capacity participation by runners.
What perhaps doesn’t get as much attention are the dedicated musicians and entertainers that volunteer their time to cheer on and encourage the athletes throughout the course of the race.
Jeff Roper has been the Course Entertainment Director for the Little Rock Marathon for the past 5 years. As a former participant, Roper knew first hand how helpful it can be to have encouragement along the way.
He said that he always stresses to the musicians to refer to the runner’s names printed on their bibs. “The runner’s response to the performers is a glorious thing to behold,” Roper said. “The runners thank them profusely and clap and dance along with the music. It clearly gives them a boost, which is our intent.”
While the musicians are there to encourage the runners, the musicians readily admit that they are in turn inspired by the tremendous dedication and spirit of the runners.
The trio of Laura Lynn Danley, Justin Patterson, and Gene Reid, performed at the marathon for the first time this year at the suggestion of their friend, fellow musician, Rena Wren who has performed for several years.
Danley described her experience as “JOY” and a “feeling a sense of community and connectedness as we shared the experience and encouraged one another.”
She felt she was there to serve and encourage, but got far more back from the “smile, and waves, and THANK YOUS” from the runners. Danley told Roper that the marathon “needs to become an annual event for Patterson, Danley and Reid.”
Reid said that the group started playing at 9:10am and played until the last three participants, one using a cane, went past.
He spoke of one runner in particular that brought tears to his eyes toward the end of the race. Reid described the man as a “smaller man, maybe five seven if he could have stood up straight, which he couldn’t.”
Reid also said “He was bent over, but holding his head as erect as possible. He smiled a smile of pure joy and waved to us as he passed and a few moments later I burst into tears without warning.”
Reid said that this memory is one he would “hold dear.” He agreed with Danley that he would definitely perform at the Marathon again.
Roper emphasized that this is a common sentiment among first time performers. He said that “Once people play the marathon they always continue provided they aren’t booked, out of town the night before or some other unavoidable logistic.”
It is clear that the interest in performing at the Marathon is continuing to grow. Roper said that this year they had the most number of Marathon sponsored performance locations, 18, including 5 first time acts.
Other acts along the course included a steel drum player, a young girl gospel quartet, a young girl playing the keyboard in her first public performance. Roper said, “There are all manner of performers and unique stories behind each one.”
Roper summed up the unique relationship between the runners and entertainers as follows: “The binding element is runners like to run, performers like to perform, and both groups of people find each other and the Little Rock Marathon worthy of their participation.”
If you are an entertainer or musician and would like to volunteer your time at the 2012 Little Rock Marathon, you can contact Jeff Roper at (501) 407-9658.