When avid runner Debra Undhjem and some like-minded friends set out to organize a marathon in the West Valley 10 years ago, their goals were simple.
“We started the Arizona Marathon during the recession as a way not only to help people get their minds off the economy and focus on their health, but also to raise funds for those in need,” says Debra, who serves as director of the marathon, an unpaid position.
“As a group, we decided the best way to serve the community was to include a range of running options, offering everything from a two-mile fun run to a full marathon,” she said. “This ensures we appeal to runners of all ages and skill levels.”
The goals have essentially remained the same, but the marathon — now called the Sun Health Arizona Marathon — has grown in size and impact.
The first marathon drew about 250 runners and several dozen volunteers, while last year’s event boasted more than 2,000 runners and 400 volunteers. Moreover, since 2009, the event has raised more than $250,000 for West Valley charities, including schools, education scholarships, the Luke Air Force Base Airman Awards, the local sheriff’s posse and more.
In addition, Luke Air Force Base and nine West Valley cities partner with marathon organizers on planning and execution, and mayors from each city have endorsed it as a valuable community event. In 2013, the marathon received a WESTMARC Best of the West, Excellence in Innovation Award.
The marathon is a labor of love for Debra and her and her all-volunteer organizing committee. When she’s not running on foot or running the committee, she works as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines and volunteers for several charities.
Running may be an individual sport but it has a remarkable way of bringing people together. Debra sees it every year when the organizing committee volunteers gather to plan the marathon. “They are an amazing group of people and they work very hard to make sure that the run runs smoothly every year.”
Sun Health, which has been a supporting sponsor of the marathon in the past, stepped up to become title sponsor this year largely because the health care nonprofit shares the same ideals as the marathon’s founders.
“We are both about health and wellness and giving back to the community. It’s a great fit,” says Sun Health CEO and President Ron Guziak.
Debra echoes those sentiments. “The vision for this is event is to help keep people healthy and active in their environment. Sun Health is a perfect partner to foster healthier communities. They’re helping us achieve our goal of ‘bringing communities together one step at a time.’”