Friday, November 25, 2011

Starting a New Tradition

Ever since I started running a year and a half ago, I have been trying to figure out some way to make my new-found love of running about more than just myself. Sure, I have REALLY enjoyed the physical benefits of running (weight loss, fitness improvement, stress reliever) as well as the social benefit of the addition of an entirely new segment of GREAT friends. However, all along I felt like something was still missing.

That all changed on Thursday morning. With the help of my daily running partners, we sponsored the inaugural Mount Vernon Running Buddies Turkey Trot 5K. The purpose of this event was to encourage people to come out and get some exercise either walking or running prior to eating a big Thanksgiving meal, while also donating money or non-perishable food items to the local Food for the Hungry Drive.

While we have created several themed running events before, we decided to make this one as official as possible without a budget or required entry fee. We were able to get the local radio stations and newspaper to promote our event and we posted an event invitation on Facebook. We had no idea what would happen, but I was optimistic that we might be able to get 50 people to come and participate.

I got up at 5:00 a.m. on Thursday and headed out to get things ready. I groggily picked up cups for water at Kroger and then bought pretty much all the Timbits that the local Tim Horton's had on hand at that time on Thanksgiving morning. Then, I drove to the course to put up signs, set up tables, fill coolers full of water, and wait to see what would happen.

Pretty soon, a few people started to arrive. There was Sandy Rhoton from the Food for the Hungry Drive committee. Then, our first runner, Brian Vinson, who is someone I've come to know over the past year. And, then, George Hartz, another of the Mount Vernon Running Buddies. We decided to move the sign-in area inside since it was pretty breezy and chilly. I worried a little that people would drive into the parking lot and think there wasn't a race, but I trusted that they would still come.

The time kept ticking away and before long it was 7:30 and there were only a handful of people there. Then, it happened!

Suddenly, people started pouring in with bags of canned food items and monetary donations. The sign-in line to get race numbers backed up, but George did an excellent job of keeping things moving while Scott, Mary, and Zoey Burgess along with Sandy and my dad and I began stacking the food donations into a display.

The energy in the room was awesome and I was so excited as the crowd continued to swell well past the 50 that I had hoped to somehow reach. At about 7:55, I stepped outside for a quick look to see if we had any last-minute people coming from the parking lot. I let out an audible "thank you, Lord" as at the moment I was overcome with gratitude towards everyone who had taken time out of a busy family day to do something bigger than themselves. After taking in that moment, I quickly pulled myself together and walked back inside to give the instructions to the participants.

From everything that I have heard, the race went off without a hitch. 76 people from five different states ranging from 6 to 73 years old set off behind my dad who rode his bike on the chilly morning to lead the way. Brian, who had shown up first for the race, finished first in a time of 19:28 to just miss having a personal best by one second. Tricia Pokosh, a member of the Mount Vernon Running Buddies, finished 10th overall and was the fastest female in 23:27 as she joined Brian to take home the two inaugural trophies.

Most importantly, over $150 dollars and 160 food items were raised for the Food for the Hungry Drive. I've also gotten tremendous feedback from both people involved and people who have found out about the race afterwards and I fully expect this to become a new tradition for the Mount Vernon community that will quickly grow into triple digits in participants.

Thank you to everyone who helped to organize, promote, and make this happen. And a big thank you to everyone who came and participated. Together, we all made a big difference and did something pretty special. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Turning 40 in Style...Outback Style

On Sunday, I had a milestone birthday. Yes, I turned 40. To me, age is just a number and so I try to have fun with it. In fact, as a runner, it's kind of fun to move into a new age group.

If you have followed my blog or have connected with me on Facebook or Twitter, you know that I love Outback Steakhouse. They are great to interact with in the social media world and they have been more than kind to me. My earlier "Talk to the Brand" entry gives you the back story of my relationship with them.

Well, imagine my surprise when on Friday out of the blue I get this tweet from Outback. Immediately, I'm trying to figure out what's going on. Sure, I had joked with them on Twitter about throwing my birthday party at their nearest restaurant, but never once did I expect anything. Some of my Twitter followers who also follow Outback saw the tweet too and were just as curious as me.

Tweets started flying fast and furious as we all tried to figure out what was going to happen. Outback sent another message saying that the package was out for delivery. I quickly told our secretary that I needed to run home and leave a note to allow the package to be left since I wasn't sure if it was coming to my home or work address.

While I made the quick trip home, more and more people began to follow the thread on Twitter as everyone was trying to figure out what was going to happen. I got back to my office just in time to read this tweet.

I realized that my package was on campus and I needed to find our delivery person to claim it. I went to our shipping and receiving area while my Twitter followers waited patiently (ahem).

I found the box, but the delivery guy was nowhere to be found. So, I left him a note and headed back to my office to open it. I called my wife, Carla, who also works at MVNU, and asked her if she wanted to come watch and then waited for her to arrive. In the meantime, one of my other Twitter followers saw me enter the building with the box and posted this picture. It was fun letting the anticipation build. :)

My wife arrived and I asked her if she would use my iPhone to record me opening the box. I had no idea what was going to be inside, but I figured that I owed it to the people following on Twitter to capture the moment for them to see. Here it is:

At this point, my heart was really racing. I had no idea what to expect on the video. I'm feeling like Tom Cruise in "Mission Impossible" as I insert the flash drive into my laptop. There's one file on the drive labeled "Dave Parsons 40th Birthday", so I click on it. Here's what popped up:

The light bulb in my brain clicks on and I know right away what's going to most likely be in the rest of the box. Once the video ends, I ask my wife to record me opening the rest of the contents. Here it is:

There was a very generous $45 voucher for me to use with "Happy Birthday, Dave" written on it as well as a cool Outback backpack to help me transport the Outback Surprises - 40 individually wrapped presents of which I had no idea of the contents.

Twitter followers started tweeting for me to find them and give them a surprise, but I tried to think about what I wanted to do to make the most impact. It was a no-brainer for me to give my wife the first present and so I did and started filming each and every Outback Surprise so everyone on social media could see it. I also found out quickly that people were counting the gifts as they were given to see how many I still had to give. :) Here's the other videos so far:

George & Gwen Hartz, two members of the Mount Vernon Running Buddies

Julie Burke, MVNU's athletic department secretary

Keith Veale, MVNU's baseball coach

Four members of the MVNU admissions staff

Rick Burke, MVNU's IT guru and technical support

Scott Peterson, MVNU's chaplain, and Dr. Brad Whitaker, math professor

Joe Rinehart, WNZR 90.9 FM

My daughters, Ashley and Kylie

Rob at Firestone

Morgan, an MVNU college student

Robert Audia, former MVNU student body president

Eric McKenzie, Cleveland Indians' director of group sales

Jim Parks, MVNU professor and basketball official scorer

Scott Sharpes, pastor of Lakeholm Church of the Nazarene

Dr. Dan Martin, MVNU's president

Members of the Mount Vernon Fire Department

Brian Humphrey, MVNU's athletic trainer

Kurt Ludlow & Josh Poland, WBNS 10TV (CBS affiliate)

Richard Mavis, the mayor of Mount Vernon

Dr. Ryan Halley, a friend & fellow runner who lives in Oregon and will do the Hood to Coast Relay with me in August 2012

Jack Hanna of the Columbus Zoo and a world-renowned animal expert

Let me just say that this has been so much fun!!! I really appreciate Outback continuing to allow me to connect both with them and to help me show my friends and colleagues what an awesome brand that they are.

I still have two Outback Surprises to give out and I have some ideas about how I'm going to do it, so stay tuned to see what happens next.

On a side note, my family and I decided to go to the Outback on Bethel Road in Columbus on my birthday. This is the same restaurant that I wrote about in my original blog about them, and ironically we ended up with the same waitress. The plan was to use the voucher that they had sent me for my birthday and to try to keep a low profile. Well, that plan failed miserably when Chris Pyles, the owner, came over and talked to us. He ended up giving me my meal and one of the new Oreo chocolate waffle desserts for free since it was my birthday. He is way too nice and definitely another extension of the great Outback brand.

I share all of this not to brag, but to say that you just never know what a brand might do to show how much it appreciates the support of its followers. And, I am by no means the only person to get Outback Surprises although I do kind of feel like their version of Subway's Jared and I will happily play that role for as long as they will allow me to. :)

Update: I just heard from Outback and they appreciate the blog and my followers. They are going to send me a $45 voucher to give away to one person. To qualify, post a comment and let me know who you would give an Outback Surprise to and why. For an extra entry, tweet this post out with @Outback and @MVNUSID included and let me know that too. Good luck!