On July 4, at 8 am, runners (and walkers!) will take their marks for the 40th annual Mount Evans Home Health Care & Hospice Freedom Run—a milestone celebration for the organization, as well as all the mountain area residents who have made the Freedom Run a part of their family tradition for the last four decades. The yearly 5k, which raises money to support the Mount Evans nonprofit has, over the years, come to stand for much more than a festive fundraiser. It brings awareness to the compassionate and experienced in-home care Mount Evans gives to individuals and families, including home health, palliative care and hospice. In addition to medical services, Mount Evans offers grief support, caregiver support, community health services and education, and for the last 26 years, Camp Comfort, a free grief camp for children ages 6-12 who have lost a loved one.
“There is such a wide variety of people who participate [in the Freedom Run],” explains Mount Evans President and CEO Keri Jaeger, “including a whole group of people who come up to Evergreen to run who have maybe not heard of Mount Evans. It’s a great opportunity for us to share, introduce people to Mount Evans and our services, and for everyone to make some great memories.”
For all the locals who have participated or volunteered in the Freedom Run over the years, there is a shared sentiment of greater purpose. Participants sign up for one reason or another, and they find, in the rhythm of the course, in the smiles of other runners, in the excitement and cheers and costumes, that their reason is a small piece of the whole experience.
Bob and Martha Zavodsky, for example, who have been Freedom Run participants since the beginning, have watched the event and the tradition expand into the very definition of community and coming together.
“We live in Hiwan, and our first summer here—1987—we woke up that morning, walked out on the deck and there was music blasting away—the starting line was about 60 yards off our backyard.” Not exactly quietude in the mountains, but the Zavodskys weren’t disgruntled in the least. They were both raised in small towns and remember their parents instilling in them a responsibility to care for others. “And Mount Evans is easy to latch onto. Volunteering for Mount Evans, it’s a community in itself,” Bob, who served on the Mount Evans board of directors for a time, says. “To see that longevity, people there, people supporting, year after year’’—that, for the Zavodskys, is what it’s all about.
Since that first year, the couple has assisted with marking the course and course safety. Martha even has a designated spot. “I like my corner!” she says. “I think I’ve only missed two years—we were out of town both times. I love to watch everyone go by, to say hi, and to watch children that I’ve taught [over the years] push their own baby buggies.” Martha, who is a longtime Evergreen area educator, is touched by the children who have grown up a part of the
Freedom Run and choose to continue the tradition in their own families.
“Some of the people we see, we only see them that day of the year!” laughs Bob. “But then to see the new young families, the continued support… and,” Bob adds, “the continued education about what Mount Evans stands for and how they have long-served the mountain area.”
This is, in fact, part of Jaeger’s excitement as the Freedom Run event grows each year. “The world is getting smaller with social media, and we are spreading the word!” With an early start and a gorgeous course, the Freedom Run attracts participants of all levels, some individuals, some groups, and everyone in search of a good time.
“You see so many colorful costumes,” Martha says. “It’s a happy day!” Her husband adds that many families use the Freedom Run as a kick-off to other Fourth of July festivities, hosting cookouts and parties afterward. Mount Evans also holds a post-race celebration, this year at Nick’s Pro Fitness. “Even people who don’t run show up just to share in the fun,” says Keri, “but what is most amazing to me is how many lives we’ve touched. People share their Mount Evans stories with me, they call our staff by name and, years later, they remember. It shows our staff live and breathe this mission. It comes back to us tenfold.”
The Freedom Run is a party and everyone is invited. But, as those reasons for signing up click into place, it’s impossible to miss the bigger picture, the greater purpose—and that is the lives that are changed, the help that is given to families in need.
Which is why the Granato family runs. Patty Granato and her daughter-in-law, Lisa Keener, remember bringing Patty’s husband, Frank, back to Evergreen as he neared his death. “He was the backbone of this family,” Lisa says, “and he knew that Mount Evans would give him the type of care he would need in his last days, and that they would give his wife, his daughters and [the rest of] his family the love and compassion they were going to need.” Patty and Lisa both remember that, while Frank could have received care at his hospital in Denver, he was the one who chose to spend his final moments being cared for by Mount Evans in his home, because he could pass peacefully, knowing his family would be cared for just as much as he was cared for.
“He was an intelligent man, one who dotted all his i’s and crossed all his t’s. He wrote out his list and made sure everything was taken care of. Frank was the one who told the doctors he wanted Mount Evans,” explains Lisa. Before Frank passed in January, the staff at Mount Evans facilitated the family’s traditional Italian New Year’s feast, allowing family members to join in a last holiday meal with their patriarch. “Mount Evans has given so much to the community but also to our family. They allowed us to come in and continue that tradition, so caring, so compassionate. So that is why we have so much love and respect for Mount Evans, and we have been so committed to them for a decade.”
The family’s first Freedom Run was in 2012, the same year Frank passed away. “I never would have known about the run if it hadn’t been for my friend,” said Patty. “But Lynn came over one day and said, why don’t we do this?”
Now, Frank’s family and friends gather in his honor for the Freedom Run, and they have established themselves as one of the largest fundraisers at the event each year. “I had a gathering of people afterward [that first year], 20 or 25 people who wouldn’t have ordinarily come showed up.” remembers Patty.
Lisa explains, “People who wouldn’t normally run participate in memory of Frank.” Just as Frank was the fulcrum of the Granato family until his dying day, bringing people together, so does that tradition continue in his name. Family members from Texas, New Jersey and other places across the country fly in for the Freedom Run. “It brings the family together,” says Lisa. “Even my nephew, who wasn’t really related to Frank, participated last year. It’s something we do yearly, and people plan ahead a year in advance for it.”
As the Granato family traditions have evolved into new ways of carrying on, so has their gathering gained greater purpose and further reach. “Frank’s favorite cocktail was Jack and Coke, and our group would wear t-shirts that said ‘Old Number 7’ on them,” Lisa says. “Last year, Jack Daniels actually recognized Patty and sent a huge box [of items] and a beautiful letter in memory of Frank.” The family is known at the race as the Old Number 7 team, and their healing and coming together, the way it has not only carried on Frank’s memory but has infused their family infrastructure, has been meaningful to many outside of the Granatos themselves.
“When I tell people about [the Freedom Run] and the reason why it’s there, I think at first they’re shocked that they have something like this and how much it actually brings people together,” Patty says. “They think it’s just people coming to race around. But Mount Evans is definitely known in our community for being a caring, compassionate place that cares for families in need in their homes,” Lisa says. “And these are families that are in need.”
Everyone needs something, and those needs can usually be met by a sense of community. Whether like the Zavodskys, who were saying hello to a new town, or the Granatos, who were searching for the right way to say goodbye, the Freedom Run is the perfect space to bring together people of all walks of life, in all stages of grieving and for everyone looking for a place to belong—and isn’t that everybody?
“The Freedom Run is just a part of our lives now,” Bob says. “We know a few days before the race we’ll be out there, marking the course.”
“And the times we were out of town—we marked the course before we left!” Martha adds.
Though Mount Evans is known for their expert care in healing and end-of-life, they are also at the center of living itself, of celebrating life and of finding ways to make our time on earth meaningful and joyous. Whether putting on the year’s favorite Fourth of July tradition or clearing the way for families to carry on traditions of their own, Mount Evans is, simply, about community.
“Community is a familiar thread that brings people together to advocate and care for one another. The fabric of this community is made of friends, neighbors and the team at Mount Evans,” says Keri.
Make the Mount Evans Freedom Run 5K part of your Fourth of July tradition. Registration is open now online at FreedomRunRace.org, MountEvans.org, at Nick’s Pro Fitness or at the Mount Evans office. Prices go up on June 29. This year, due to the support of amazing sponsors, every dollar from race registrations will go directly to support health care in the homes of residents across the mountain community. Sign up today at FreedomRunRace.org