By the Numbers: The Big River Crossing road races

September 7th, 2017

Memphis Business Journal | Meagan Nichols

It’s a crisp October morning in Downtown Memphis, and 5,000 people are about to take part in the inaugural Big River Crossing road races.

More than 100 volunteers line the streets as runners head to the start line. The siren sounds and off go the 5k participants. A half hour later the siren sounds a second time — the half marathoners make their way to the bridge.

What the weather will actually be like and the exact number of participants might still be unknown, but come Saturday, Oct. 21, the Big River Crossing Half Marathon and 5k will celebrate the one-year anniversary of the opening of the pedestrian bridge. Proceeds will benefit the Peer Power Foundation.

The Harahan Bridge — which opened for trains and automobiles in 1916 — debuted its one-mile Big River Crossing pedestrian/bike path across the Mississippi River Oct. 22, 2016. The bridge allows people to walk, bike and — soon — race from Tennessee to Arkansas.

“It is just exactly the kind of thing that we hoped that the Big River Crossing would spawn from the get-go,” said Dow McVean, with McVean Trading and Investments and Peer Power. “The primary objective of the race is to raise money for Peer Power, but I think it has a lot of unique qualities that make it a particularly interesting fundraiser and race.”

McVean, along with his father, Charlie — supporters of the Big River Strategic Initiative — were instrumental in the creation of the Big River Crossing.

Peer Power, a nonprofit founded by Charlie McVean in 2005, recruits high school and college students to tutor younger public-school students, which allows classrooms to collapse the student-to-teacher ratio.

"If you take a kid that was maybe tittering the wrong way and drops out of high school and possibly ends up at 201 Poplar, versus a kid that now we could get to graduate and get a couple years of community college and teach them to work on diesel engines ... or work in [FedEx's] hub or whatever it may be, that is huge," McVean said. "[It is a] huge economic swing to our community. … That is what Peer Power does."

A portion of the race-day volunteers will also be from Peer Power.

Participants in the 5k will not cross the bridge due to logistics, but the half-marathoners will cross at mile No. 3 and No. 11. On the Arkansas side, the race will take runners on the Big River Trail, a seven-mile loop made of reclaimed asphalt that goes along the floodplain. Now under construction, that trail is expected to open in early October.

“We hope the [Big River Trail] is a longer run prototype for the concept of turning that whole area over there into a regional river park,” McVean said. “Sort of a Shelby Farms-style park on the river, in the floodplain, right across from Downtown [Memphis].

P.R. Event Management LLC was hired to direct and organize the Big River Crossing races. Post-race activities will include live music, food from Cheffie’s Cafe and beer from Ghost River Brewing Co.

Race organizers continue to pursue sponsors, and the full sponsor list is expected to be released in mid-September.

“We think the race will obviously generate income to help fund Peer Power but also, as much as the funding, just raise awareness of the program and what we are doing in Memphis,” McVean said.

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Mario J. Fortney

Mario Fortney is a Program Director at Whitehaven High School. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville where he received a Master’s in Business Administration and Business Analytics.

 He has worked with Peer Power since (2004) its inception beginning  as a high school tutor. He earned a full academic scholarship to UT Knoxville.  He has made a very strong commitment to using his talent to positively impact education in Memphis. Mario is a huge proponent of the Peer Power Model and knows it will continue to demonstrate its contributions to students' academic achievement, social and civic growth.

"Peer Power is what is right about Memphis."