This year’s Bret Younger Volunteer of the Year is credited with turning disappointment into “determination and excitement” and “heartbreak into a time to rejoice and come together.”
Jennifer Thompson, Neenah, has been a long-time volunteer for the Community First Fox Cities Maraton Presented by Miron Construction.She is also an avid runner and member of the PaceSetters of the Fox Cities. She is best known as the volunteer who organizes the Marathon’s summer series of training runs for half and full marathon participants. Each year, Thompson gathers supplies, recruits volunteers, secures demos of running products and often runs at the 17 training runs.
But she’s recently gained star status as the creator of an in-person event to help hundreds of people complete their Community First Fox Cities Marathon, Orthopedic Sports Institute Relay Marathon and ThedaCare Half Marathon virtually.
For the first time in its 29-year history, Fox Cities Marathon organizers cancelled the Sunday, Sept. 22 distance events due to thunderstorms and lightning. Race participants were quickly given an option to earn their medal by completing a virtual race either on their own, with friends or at another race.
Thompson jumped into action to offer an event for participants hoping to complete the virtual race. The event featured a start and finish line, water stations and post-race refreshments at Runaway Shoes in Appleton. She posted details on Facebook and soon had volunteers lined up to help around 150 people complete their virtual race the very next weekend!
“My heart broke the day we got the call that we couldn’t run; and I knew there were people who trained with us all summer long and those people needed people to run with,” said Thompson after receiving the award at the Marathon’s Kwik Trip Volunteer Appreciation Party Oct. 22. “It was an amazing experience. It’s important to me to give back to a community that has given me so much. This running community has given me lifelong friends. It’s the people that I meet that makes it exciting.”
Jennifer ran alongside many of the first-timers the day of the virtual race event offering encouragement and earning her own virtual medal for the Community First Fox Cities Marathon.
“Jennifer is simply amazing,” said Laurie Butz, leader of the marathon team. “Without her, our training runs wouldn’t be possible. And the fact that she quickly stepped up to help so many run a virtual race was above and beyond expectations. We’re so grateful that she is such a great friend to the Marathon.”
Ever since 2003, the marathon has chosen one volunteer who exemplifies the values of honesty, respect, caring and responsibility with the Bret Younger Volunteer of the Year Award. The award was created to honor the memory and values of a good friend to the Marathon and former Race Director Bret Younger who died in an automobile accident in April 2003. The recipient of this award must exemplify optimism, the love of working with people and live the mission of the Marathon. In turn, the award is an opportunity for a volunteer to receive recognition for outstanding effort and dedication toward the Marathon.