Sucking Wind

What I learned from cancelling our biggest event of the year

By Dave Mullen

The 2017 Selah Base Race (www.selahbaserace.com) was supposed to be the biggest in its six-year history. I spent two years rebranding the race after I took over as parks and recreation director. This meant creating a new logo, website, and marketing plan as well as cultivating relationships with corporate sponsors; all in all, it was an enormous amount of logistical work. After seeing 402 runners participate in the 2016 race—the most ever—I knew the race could continue to grow because the community was supporting it.

Photo: © Can Stock Photo / Pavel1964

Photo: © Can Stock Photo / Pavel1964

The main reason behind coordinating the race is to donate money to The Soldiers Project, which provides free mental-health counseling to post-9/11 veterans. Selah is located in Yakima County, Wash., which is home to thousands of veterans, and I knew our community was supporting the charity based on the daily conversations I was having with residents. The benefits of the race are twofold:

  1. It provides an avenue for local military members at the Yakima Training Center to get together with the community.

  2. It is an opportunity for residents to wrap their arms around the military community and express their gratitude for the constant sacrifice.

Another aspect of the race that we are extremely proud of is that we recognize 13 Gold Star families from the Yakima Valley—those who have a family member killed in action.

After solidifying sponsorships with two prominent corporations (Regional Health and Solarity), I had no reason to think this wouldn’t be the biggest race. The marketing plan was in place. There was a concerted effort to spend the advertising dollars in digital media because of recent negative trends for return-on-investment with traditional media (radio, television).

Up In Smoke
However, as race day approached, fires were burning all over Washington State and in surrounding states. The smoke from those fires made its way into central Washington, which made air quality unbearable. On the Thursday before the race, we had no choice but to cancel, much to the chagrin of myself, vendors, runners, and others who were invested in the race. As I sat in my office, I could not help but feel sorry for myself. The feeling was quickly erased, however, as I realized a few things;

1. People have to accept things that are out of their control. I could not control the air quality, and I definitely couldn’t predict what the air quality would be on race day. It was disheartening that all of my team’s hard work was for naught, but there was nothing I could do about the situation. However, we could look towards 2018 and get started on that race.

2. Resiliency is the key in many occupations, including being a parks and recreation director. I remembered a great quotation: “Resilient people immediately look at the problem and say, ‘What’s the solution to that? What is this trying to teach me?’” The only solution was to cancel the event due to conditions that no man or woman could control. What is this cancellation trying to teach me and my team? Control the controllable. Be resilient. Focus on the next thing.

3. The path to the event is more important than the end result. I wanted to reach a goal of donating more than $3,000 to The Soldiers Project, but God had other plans with this cancellation. It allowed me to perform a “hot wash” (analyzing what went right, wrong, etc.) of the event sooner than I had planned, and during that process my team and I were able to create strategies to become more efficient and effective for the 2018 race.

As parks and recreation professionals, we always have to plan for the worst-case scenario. At the same time, we cannot let a worst case-scenario affect our work ethic, determination, or enthusiasm for the event we are coordinating. We must continue planning these events as though nothing would go wrong, but always have a plan for anything that could go wrong.

Dave Mullen is the Parks and Recreation Manager for the city of Selah, Wash. Reach him at (509) 698-7301, or david.mullen@selahwa.gov.