For many Charlotte-area runners, the upcoming Hit the Brixx 5K will be remembered for all the free pizza and beer they enjoyed after crossing the finish line. But Kevin Collins will remember the Sept. 26 uptown race as the first one he ran while wearing a running skirt.
Believe it or not, it won't be the last. The 45-year-old financial analyst is promising to wear the skirt again -- in addition to sporting a mohawk -- at the Oct. 3 Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. And he's just getting warmed up.
I first learned about Collins thanks to Stacey Irwin, coordinator for the local chapter of Team In Training (the largest fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society). She e-mailed me last month to report: "We have a coach who is doing something quite amazing, and potentially embarrassing, and I wanted to see if you would be interested in helping further his embarrassment for a good cause." (How could I not be??)
Collins is training for the Ford Ironman Florida on Nov. 7 and also raising money for Team In Training through the Janus Charity Challenge program. He promised his friends, family and colleagues that if they helped him raise $7,500, he would run a local 5K and the run portion of the Ironman in a running skirt. At last count, Collins was at $8,500.
Q. How did this all start?
Kevin: I received an e-mail one morning at work about a co-worker’s son being diagnosed with leukemia. I didn’t know Brian Gray very well because he was in a different department, but we had traded e-mails once or twice. Still, you hate to hear anyone’s kid is sick and fighting a deadly disease. As it turns out, Brian and I were in the same continuing education class that morning. During the break, I approached Brian to ask how his son was and if he would let me help out. I learned a bit more about his sons Matt (4 years old) and Alex (2). I learned that Matt was diagnosed in August 2008 and received a bone marrow transplant from Alex before Thanksgiving of last year. I knew then I would be racing in honor of the Gray boys, if their parents would allow it. I told Brian a little bit about the volunteer work I did with TNT and how I wanted to help out. It was a go from then on.
Q. And so how did things get from there to the point where you were talking about rocking a funny haircut and women's clothing?
Kevin: The next day, I signed up for the Janus Charity Challenge through the Ironman Florida Web site. Since I have done so many fundraisers in the past -- TNT, 24 Hours of Booty, MS 150 -- I needed to come up with a plan to entice people to donate to my chosen cause once again. Plus, it’s a tough economy; so you have to give folks a little something for their effort. I certainly can’t promise I’ll be on the podium or guarantee anything to my donors. The only promises I can make are that I will give it my best shot and I can make you laugh in the process. So I told my family, friends, training partners, co-workers and anyone else that would listen: "If you help me reach $5,000, I will wear a mohawk as I taper during the three weeks leading up to the race. If you help me get to $7,500, not only will I wear a mohawk, I will wear a skirt during the marathon portion of the Ironman race." ... Right now, my fundraising total is at $7,728.
Q. So that made it a done deal, the mohawk and the skirt. For the Ironman. But then you decided you just couldn't wait to put on that skirt, huh?
Of course, you can’t try something new on race day. ... I’ll being wearing my brand new cheetah print skirt at Hit the Brixx 10K next weekend. The big haircut is the following week, when I’ll sport the mohawk and skirt at Race for the Cure.
Q. Meanwhile, you've put up even more challenges to potential donors, right?
If I make it to $10,000, I will dye the mohawk purple the week of the race and rock the skirt for an additional local race [like the Jingle Jog 5K in support of] Girls on the Run in December. If somehow the fundraising total reaches $14,060 -- which would be $100 for every mile of the Ironman -- well ... I’m open to suggestions.
Q. Funny business aside, how serious of an athlete are you? At this point, I have completed two Ironman races out of the dozen of triathlons I’ve competed in. I’m usually in the middle of the pack. And a few years ago, I did the Chicago Marathon. I’m an average runner that prefers cycling and swimming, but I do run a couple of times a week. I just enjoy exercising, being healthy and challenging myself. ... Six years ago, I did the Latta Triathlon with Team In Training, and enjoyed it so much I came back for the Honolulu Triathlon. Then I became a fundraising captain while I was training for a century bike ride in Lake Tahoe. The following season, I was a mentor for the marathon team. And I’ve been a triathlon coach for three years; always as a volunteer like the rest of the coaches. This is my fifth time fundraising for TNT.
Q. Can I ask how little Matt is doing?
Matt Gray is doing great! His hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes have all grown back. He is on the road to becoming a regular little boy. The Grays are planning to meet me at Race for the Cure so I can get a picture of Matt with a smile and me in a skirt and mohawk. My family and friends have been asking for pictures ever since I hit the $7,500 mark.
Q. OK, tell me how can people help.
I’ll accept donations on my Web site [click here] or at the race. I’ll have a little baggie to carry any checks made payable to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I’ll be the guy in the cheetah print skirt with the purple Team In Training tri jersey. I don’t think there will be two people dressed the same way.
Théoden (pronounced "THAY-den") Janes, the Observer's pop culture writer, caught the running bug in September 2008. His PRs are 20:12 for a 5K, 44:48 for a 10K, 1:28:50 for a half-marathon, and 3:13:26 for a marathon.