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Hamilton City Centre ‘Painted Blue’ for Robert’s Run

Hamilton City Centre ‘Painted Blue’ for Robert’s Run

Robert’s Run organizers Phil Leonardi, Meryn Leonardi, Heidi Martin, Alyce Leonardi and Doug Martin meet in Downtown Hamilton to see the city “painted blue” to promote the August 3 event. Photo by Sarah Glass.

by Sarah Glass

On Tuesday, July 2, the Hamilton Downtown Association “painted the city blue” by hanging banners in the colors of Robert’s Run to promote the upcoming 1-mile walk, 5K run and 10K run on August 3. For one day each year, Hamilton, Montana can take the TrackTown USA title from Eugene, Oregon, if not by the sheer number of participants, then at least by the hearts of the runners and the purpose behind their efforts.

Last year, approximately 800 runners participated in Robert’s Run, with representatives from all 50 states.

“This year we have (runners from) all 50 states, Canada and Mexico, so all over North America,” said the event’s race director, Doug Martin. “We have about 1,000 runners in person and 1,400 total.”

Robert’s Run benefits the local Play Like Robert Foundation. Named after Robert Leonardi, a cheerful nine-year-old boy who was killed in a car crash on Golf Course Road in 2019, the organization has been a way for the Leonardi family—his parents, Phil and Alyce, and his sister, Meryn—to channel their grief into something meaningful and remind others to cherish the time they have with the young people in their lives. The list of projects the Play Like Robert Foundation has helped with includes bringing tetherball and basketball hoops to Daly

From elementary schools and shooting clocks to several high schools in Ravalli County and from playground equipment to the Bitterroot Aquatic Center, just to name a few.

“I think the Play Like Robert Foundation is why people are drawn to it,” Martin said, “and then Phil and Alyce. It’s a great race, but I think it’s mostly about Phil and Alyce and celebrating Robert’s memory and his spirit.”

Phil and Alyce have a long history of working as teachers in Ravalli County. “I coach track and field and cross country at Corvallis,” Alyce said, “and when Robert passed away, the Corvallis runners were what I needed. They were just solid, decent people. They said, ‘We’ll run with you and just

let yourself be there and let yourself appear before you every day.”

Not only did the children Alyce coached continue to show up for her, but members of the community showed their support for the Leonardi family by joining them for an informal run through downtown Hamilton the day after Robert’s funeral. Years later, people from all over the country still come to the city to run, raise money for local children’s activities, and to remember Robert.

Organizers of Robert’s Run plan to recruit an Olympic-level race ambassador for the 2024 event. Galen Rupp, a two-time Olympic medalist in long-distance running, was on hand last year to give a running clinic and present awards. In 2022, Bernard Legat, a two-time Olympic medalist in the 1,500 meters, was the ambassador. Martin said the 2024 ambassador should be announced sometime later this week. When asked how they recruit such high-profile athletes, Martin’s wife, Heidi, said Alyce has a friend who works at Nike in Portland, Oregon

and that he makes the connection possible.

“It’s such an exciting thing… to have an event of this magnitude grow and bring people to our city,” said Robin Pruitt of the Hamilton Downtown Association.

For the event that is designed to be all-inclusive, visitors and participants of the August 3 event can also look forward to a children’s carnival and medals for everyone. Robert loved playing games, said his

mother, and loved to play anything that would win him a prize. A one-mile, stroller-friendly walk is available for anyone who can’t or doesn’t want to run, as well as a virtual option where people can participate by “playing as Robert” and doing family activities.

To register for Robert’s Run or learn more about the Play Like Robert Foundation, visit runsignup.com/Race/MT/Hamilton/RobertsRun