Costumed Cheerleaders Lift Runners' Spirits and Fundraise for Charity
UPPER WEST SIDE — "We’re bringing sexy back."
That's the tagline of a group of running fans who will don elaborate costumes to cheer on runners in Central Park this weekend, raising money for medical research.
The New York City-based running club the Dashing Whippets, which has more than 250 active members, noticed that while the New York City Marathon brings out thousands of people, smaller races often have lackluster fan turnout. Every runner could use extra encouragement, Upper West Sider and Dashing Whippets member Evan Siegfried, 31, said.
"Cheering really does provide a boost," Siegfried said.
Smaller, shorter races like the Oakley Mini 10K, set for this Saturday in Central Park, lack crowd support because they're not a "marquee event," said Siegfried, adding that "most of the city doesn’t come out for these."
That's where the outlandishly costumed, loud and enthusiastic Dashing Whippets come in, he said.
Half-a-dozen men dressed in gaudy getups, which are kept secret until race day, will cheer Oakley Mini runners this Saturday morning along the East Drive at East 72nd Street.
The next day, at the same spot and time, a group of costumed female Whippet members will support runners participating in the 5-mile Portugal Day Race, also held in Central Park.
"I could hear them [cheering] a half-mile away," runner Kelly Neptune blogged about last year's cheer squads.
In addition to lifting runners' spirits, the Dashing Whippets are also hoping to raise money from some of their fellow members, who support their cheering efforts.
This year they've chosen to donate all the money raised to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinsons Research. Last year, the inaugural year of their organized cheering, the team raised roughly $2,000 from more than 50 members for Back on My Feet, which uses running to help homeless people.
Since then, the group has added a battle of the sexes competition between the male and female cheer sections, requiring donors to choose a side.
"We realized the trash talk that was going back and forth on these planning emails was actually a useful tool that could have an impact," said Siegfried, who is hoping that customized Dashing Whippets rubber bracelets the men are offering donors will tip the scales in their favor.
"It just adds an extra dynamic to it," added Henrietta Aitken, 32, an avid runner and member who lives in Hell's Kitchen and characterized the faceoff as "friendly competition."
Each group is not only competitive about how much money it raises, but also about cheering skills and costumes.
"Let's be frank: Each year the men demonstrate why the Whippets men are known not only for their running, but as the preeminent cheerers in NYC," Siegfried boasted. "In 2014, we look forward to continuing the tradition of cheer dominance."
Aitken wouldn't divulge much about the women's plans, but said the theme centered around "bringing the beach to Central Park."
"I’m sure the boys are doing something quite risqué," she added.
To give people extra time to donate, the group will announce the winning team a few days after the Sunday race, Aitken noted.
For the Whippets, the cheer competition is a central event, but the fundraising and service doesn't stop there, with volunteering sessions and other fundraising campaigns planned throughout the year, she explained.
"We’re a community-minded team," Aitken said, "even though running was the first thing that brought us together."