The annual Sullivan 5K attracts 350 runners

It started as a morning walk, and now raises thousands for Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.

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The annual August 5K race around East Chop, organized by Island good guy Dr. Louis Sullivan, is one of those events around here that began from a conversation, grew out of a desire to help, and became a feel-good summer mainstay.

On a glorious Saturday morning at 9 am, exactly 350 runners, walkers, and crawlers — a near record number — celebrated the 31st anniversary of the annual Sullivan 5K Run/Walk, Kids Run, and Diaper Derby.

Excitement abounded. In several race categories new names joined some familiar ones. Ryan O’Connor of Bristol, Conn., won the men’s overall at 17:58. His pal Brittany Telke took the women’s at 19:34. Reaan Steenkamp ran with six of his M.V. Hurricanes. Steenkamp won his 50-59 age division, and Hurricanes’ Maia Donnelly (age 13) and Elizabeth Hoff (age 12) finished one-two in the under-14 division. MVRHS 2019 grad and track star Owen Porterfield smoothed his way to second place in under-19s, and 83-year-old Bill Hambrecht of Tisbury trotted home at 47:40 to take seniors. For complete results, go to greystoneracing.net.

The drama unfolded in the opening event, the baby crawl, with a teeming field of eight babies, up from none last year and two or three typically.

Margaret Gettings, 14 months old from Oak Bluffs, had this one in hand early, with Cecil Hinshaw of Vineyard Haven and Johnny Roriz of Oak Bluffs in hot pursuit. Alas, Margaret met up with a bright, shiny object on the course, and stopped to admire it.

But Margaret, who is spectacularly cute, became an instant fan fave, and grandparent types lined up to hold her throughout the event, including hospital CEO Denise Schepici. 

Back In 1988, Sullivan, now 85, was just chatting with friends about the morning walks he organized in Washington, D.C., and in field offices as U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) under President George H.W. Bush between 1989 and 1993.

The notion of interacting with employees, getting and valuing their feedback through shared experiences, seems unthinkable in today’s political atmosphere, but it worked for Boston University–educated internist Dr. Sullivan. Up to 175 HHS employees would turn out at 6 am to chat with the boss. One of his friends prompted him to start one here.

Turned out that Sullivan has a gift for organizing things where nothing existed. For example, he got the Morehouse University Medical School off the ground in 1978, then guided it through its early years.

“I’m pleased the 5K has taken off. We organized it [in 1988] to promote wellness, and had no thought or idea it would become a tradition or even an annual event until the third year, when volunteers from the hospital just showed up, dispensing water and oranges. Then we decided to make it a fundraiser for the hospital,” Sullivan recalled last Thursday of his idea, now an event certified by USA Track and Field.

Guess what? The little run around Waban Park in Oak Bluffs with 57 participants 31 years ago has attracted an estimated 10,000 runners since. There’s an old saying that if you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you got. Over the past 28 years, the Sullivan 5K has raised — are you ready? — nearly $700,000 for the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.