In 1978, 876 runners lined up next to Utica Radiator in East Utica to participate in the first ever Boilermaker. It was a hellishly hot day. Among the masochists was my father, an area car dealer. He did not finish. He lost consciousness, fortunately near St. Luke’s Hospital on Burrstone Road. But to this day, my dad still talks about his participation and subsequent hospitalization in that first boilermaker with an immense sense of pride. That is because he was a foundational piece of something that would grow beyond Earle Reed’s wildest imagination. The following year, my dad crossed the finish line and ran a dozen more times while extolling to me the virtues of the race.
By the time I ran my first Boilermaker in 2004, the event had evolved into something that not even the most optimistic race pioneers could have imagined. My dad was right, it was infectious. The spectators, the music…the beer. It is now a massive community celebration, exceeding while simultaneously representing the humble city it calls home. It is a source of pride for all the people that are connected to this place: a place that holds onto its pride like a cold Utica Club. For the past decade, Utica was not my home but it remained my hometown. I’ve missed a few races but returning home in July for the Boilermaker has become an important tradition for my friends and I. It is a reunion for all of us who have been flung around the country by life.
Despite its growth, the Boilermaker’s evolution continues today. In 2014, Boilermaker headquarters relocated to West Utica with a simple yet ambitious goal in mind: take root in a community in need of a renaissance. This past summer, a dozen Utica students toiled in the dirt to create the Boilermaker Urban Garden or BUG as it is affectionately known. The area is known as a food desert, indicating a lack of access to affordable fruits and vegetables. Some of these young urban farmers had never tasted the food that they were now cultivating with their own hands. This program, sure to grow in coming years, is a key component of the Boilermaker Urban Initiative which is working to affect change at a grassroots level. The Boilermaker headquarters are also home to weekly yoga classes and will continue to serve, in the months and years to come, as a community rallying point for all forces of positive change in the city. In the spirit that the Boilermaker was founded, the possibilities are only limited by our self-imposed capacity for good.
This expansion of focus does not represent a “rebranding” for the Boilermaker. In its 40th year, the Boilermaker brand is stronger than it’s ever been. We are simply getting more ambitious, asking the question, “What can we do next?” The Boilermaker Road Race will forever and always be the country’s best road race. But why not be more than that? A lot has changed in forty years. Just imagine where we will be in another forty.