Griffin’s Run has been taking place in downtown Clarksdale for six years and continues to evolve.
Griffin Graves, who will turn 6 years old on April 8, was born with Down Syndrome. A run on the Saturday following Down Syndrome Day has taken place ever since he was born to raise money for Reece’s Rainbow – an organization that helps children with special needs get adopted.
The run has always been 3.21 miles in honor of the Down Syndrome chromosome. People without Down Syndrome have two 21st chromosomes. Graves and everyone else with Down Syndrome has three 21st chromosomes. Those with Down Syndrome have a total of 47 chromosomes, while everyone else has 46.
The race was competitive in the past, but this year there was no winner and a color run was added for children 10 and younger down Delta Avenue with no entry fee.
Griffin inspired the color run.
“Last year, he kept getting to the rainbow and saying, ‘On your mark, get set, go’ and taking off and I knew that he wanted to do it, but he’s too little to do the big run,” said Griffin’s mother Kristen. “So I thought, with the color run, that’s a perfect time to start like a kids fun run.”
Color powder was thrown on the kids during the run.
“We, obviously, changed it up with our color run, so if you swallow it or eat it or something terrible happens, I’m sorry in advance,” Kristen said jokingly to all participants before the run. “We’re working on it. It’s the first year, but I think it’s going to be fun.”
The route for the regular run was the same as previous years -- Down Delta Avenue to Lee Graves’ law office, past the Hunt Ross & Allen law office, to the Cutrer Mansion parking lot, down Clark Street, back up First Street across the bridge, on Riverside Avenue, all the way down Cypress Avenue to the old Duck Walk down the hill, back up Cypress Avenue, back out on Riverside Avenue, across the Second Street bridge and on Sunflower Avenue and then Delta Avenue.
Parents were able to take their young children in strollers and some people went the wrong way since the run was just for fun.
“We don’t want to use our funds for the high-tech finish line,” Kristen said. “So sometimes with the old-fashioned kind, mistakes get made and people don’t get the right medals. That hurts feelings and we don’t want that. This is a happy event. We thought this was perfect. What a great transition. It’s the color. It’s the rainbow. It matches everything perfectly, so we just went with it.”
While the new format may have attracted people who otherwise would not have participated, competitive runners from the past may have stayed away.
“We might have lost some people with that, too,” Kristen said. “People that need to say, ‘I’m a winner,’ they might not want to come. I felt like it was more laid-back.”
The two runners who crossed the finish line first on the rainbow painted on Delta Avenue on Saturday morning said they had fun.
“I was running with the Spring (Initiative) kids,” said Isaac Freund. “I was supposed to stick with them, but then somebody passed us and it got a little competitive, so we decided to win it.”
Rachel Bouer, also with Spring Initiative, crossed the finish line at the same time and agreed.
“We’ve been doing Griffin’s Run for many years now and it’s just really exciting to be a part of it,” she said.
Kristen estimated the race raised $18,000, but that is not the final tally. The entry fee is $25 and there were donations and sponsorships. She said more money raised from the race will be coming in May.
“I just wanted to tell you all how amazing we were here last year,” Kristen said to everyone before the race. “We raised $20,000 for Reece’s Rainbow and that $20,000 found families for 15 children. All 15 of those children came home to their parents. We rescued them is what we did. That is so amazing. I feel like this year is going to be just as wonderful.”
The $20,000 raised in 2018 was a record that could be surpassed when the final numbers arrive in May.
Kristen said many families who adopt three or four children are unable to afford an adoption grant. By raising the money, Griffin’s Run helps take young children out of orphanages and places them with families.
Griffin designed the T-shirt for the run, but he still does not understand that he has Down Syndrome. His parents, Kristen and Andy, have started explaining Down Syndrome to him.
“I don’t think he’s really aware of it at all,” Kristen said. “Really, this year is the first time I’ve even tried to talk about it and don’t give it a name at all. But we will, for sure. There’s no sense in overloading him with something he doesn’t grasp.”
On Down Syndrome Day on Thursday, March 21, Kristen read the book “47 Strings,” which represents 47 chromosomes, by Becky Carey, to Griffin’s class at St. Elizabeth Catholic School.
Kristen said she believed about three children really understood Griffin has Down Syndrome and others just saw he was made differently.
“He has a little extra part that makes him different,” Kristen said. “I want them to be kind and to understand and to help and not tease or anything.”
Students at St. Elizabeth Catholic School also wore silly socks for Down Syndrome Day on Thursday and had rainbows on their cupcakes.
Kristen said Griffin has raised huge awareness of Down Syndrome, noting many people told her he was the first person they met with Down Syndrome. She said other schools -- including Presbyterian Day School and Sherard Elementary School -- did something for Down Syndrome Day and she hopes to involve all local schools in the future.
Kristen teaches grades 5 to 8 at W.A. Higgins Middle School and attempted to get other teachers to celebrate.
“I sent messages and had some friends wear some socks, but it wasn’t huge,” Kristen said. “I talked to my children about it. I had one child wear socks, but I think that was unintentional. Silly socks are kind of in vogue right now, so you do what you can.”
Kristen said it is hard to get empathy out of children in the grades she teaches, but her students have been receptive to Griffin.
“Griffin, he’s been to school,” Kristen said. “They love him. They’re sweet.”