Tue | Aug 22, 2017

The Ks have it

Published:Sunday | November 23, 2014 | 11:00 AM

Anthony Gambrill

If you're talking balls, Sammy Younis has them, but when it comes to Ks, then it's Alfred 'Frano' Francis. Sammy's charity balls on behalf of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce have been staged annually since balls were given renewed status after colonial times. And charities are glad of them.

But it's Frano who has made walking, jogging and running over various kilometres the trendiest, most positive activity to sweep Jamaica. It seems like it all evolved when Frano and a group of Kingstonians took their exercise running around the Mona Dam. That was 1995. Before you knew it, the Jamdammers, as they became known, were organising Ks.

Today, besides their own activities, they assist Frano with the 14-year-old Reggae Marathon held in December in Negril. It's become a popular event attracting sports tourists, as well as locals, and is ranked by the London Times as one of the top 10 best road races in the world.

The national enthusiasm for running is probably the fortuitous result of a desire among middle-class Jamaicans to take up people-friendly exercise and happened at a time when the country needed financial support where often little or nothing was available from successive governments.

Fun-running, for fundraising, currently brings in more than $50 million a year for a plethora of causes such as scholarships, equipment for hospitals and schools, educational programmes, dental equipment, and assistance for the indigent homeless.

Happily it's a bandwagon on which corporate Jamaica has jumped. GraceKennedy, Tru-Juice, LIME, Digicel and CB Group are among the converted. But the daddy of them all is Sagicor.

Sagicor staged the Sigma Run in February and raised $21 million this year. More than 22,000 participants worked their way around New Kingston, so many that in 2015, the organisers may have to limit the number taking part.

More than 20 runs have taken place in locations on routes as varied as the Kingston waterfront, to the urban roadways of Montego Bay, to hilly Mandeville, and includes all ages, families, both sexes (and possibly a few transgender), walking, trotting, running and in wheelchairs.

Distances range from 2K, 5K, 6K, 10K and full marathons. Some take it seriously; others just enjoy the companionship of others. Last January, there was a Colour Me Happy Run in which you started out in a white T-shirt and got sprinkled on route with multiple colours. At the end, the participants looked like circus clowns but successfully raised over three-quarters of a million dollars.

The man who led the charge, Frano, was inducted into the Order of Distinction (Officer Class) on Heroes Day this year and was honoured last Sunday when the CB UWI Group 5K was held in his honour. Since the early days of the Jamdammers, he has gone on to manage nearly two dozen runs this year through his company, Running Events Ltd, with more planned for 2015.

New ideas

As the popularity of running for good health and to raise funds increases, as Frano optimistically predicts, it is the duty of this column to come up with a few ideas he perhaps hasn't thought of yet.

Running to bring the attention of politicians to the woeful condition of our roads could generate the right kind of publicity, although we should expect a number of minor injuries as a consequence of potholes. The stretch from Whitehall to Ferris in Westmoreland, for instance, would be ideal, although it would produce particularly slow times. How about Port Antonio to Berrydale the starting point for rafting? Combine the run with a raft race and you have another tourist attraction. Or Papine to the Camp at Newcastle and back. Hazardous, yes, but the views are more than compensation.

Might I suggest a 1K in which participants walk/jog/run backwards? This could be known as the Special K, if it weren't for Kellogg's cereal. My favourite suggestion is a 5K for members of parliament only. They would preferably run in three-button suits (the ladies included) and the route would take them past the places with which they have had questionable dealings: the NHT, Ministry of Finance, UDC, and so on.

For my part, I am planning to launch a company - Cool Runnings - next year. It will offer (paid) advice to runners who want to know of shortcuts on the routes they are to take. A few minutes saved here or there could earn you a basket of fruit at the finish line.

Anthony Gambrill is a playwright. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.