Local race coordinator promotes healthy living with fun activities

Long-time Central New York resident Ken Hammond also displays the city of Syracuse with events like the Syracuse Half Marathon and the IronGirl Triathlon.

The Syracuse Half Marathon takes runners through the heart of downtown Syracuse, up through the northern and eastern areas and back into city. In planning those 13.1 miles, race director Ken Hammond made certain runners would pass by abandoned buildings on James Street, the once-bustling Inner Harbor and through the new developments in historical Armory Square.

Photo: Liam Woods, courtesy of Ken Hammond
Hammond always wanted to be a part of healthy living. At first he wanted to compete, but soon found that promoting it was more satisfying.

Hammond, 28, knows the route is not the most beautiful of runs, but it is a true portrait of Syracuse. But his events do not only showcase the city. On Aug. 4, Hammond’s efforts were on display at Oneida Shores Park, where the IronGirl Triathlon kicked off at 7 a.m. as the sun rose above Lake Oneida.  

“There’s a lot that Syracuse and the area can offer people,” Hammond said. “It’s a matter of finding it. And my events help people do that.” He ought to know, considering he was born and raised in Kirkville, N.Y.

Hammond referenced the Rust Belt, and how the flight of industry left a scar on Syracuse’s development. When Hammond was growing up, downtown Syracuse was underdeveloped and empty. But now, replete with shops, restaurants and bars, downtown Syracuse is a thriving neighborhood. When he launched the Syracuse Half Marathon, Hammond helped bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“We’re a traffic nightmare. I get it,” Hammond said. “But I’m trying to bring things downtown, to bring business to businesses. I’m bringing people into the city to show what Syracuse has to offer.”

One of his cycling partners, Randy Hadzor, also emphasized Hammond’s desire to showcase Syracuse.

“It’s just an honest view of Syracuse,” Hadzor said. “There are a lot of events that just take you on one side of the city. But with his events, you hit everything that is and was and is going to be Syracuse. He makes a focus to really show off what Syracuse is.”

A background in healthy living leads to promoting it

And as a longtime Central New York resident, Hammond saw a lot of change in the area. Hammond was always athletic and always healthy, his childhood friend Chris Allen said. Friends for 20 years—they rode the school bus together in elementary school, were college roommates, and in each others’ weddings—Allen noted the half marathon really helped establish Hammond’s brand in the Syracuse.

Another high school friend and cycling partner, Andrew Foxenberg, recalled a story from their basketball league days, when Hammond ran so quickly to catch a ball that he hit a wall and broke his arm.

“It’s a good memory to think of when you think about Ken,” Foxenberg said. “It’s sort of a testament to his energy and passion today.”

That energy and passion for sport and healthy living has long been one of Hammond’s defining characteristics. He grew up playing sports, participating in the men’s 200-meter and 400-meter events in track, and playing defensive end in football in high school, before running cross-country at Paul Smith’s College in Brighton, N.Y. For two years Hammond ran long distance, which Hammond described as “a hell of a training change,” before he transferred to SUNY Cortland.

At SUNY Cortland, Hammond realized he wanted to work with athletics for a living, and in any capacity. It first took him to Florida, where an internship with Ironman, which organizes triathlons of varying distances, confined Hammond to an office environment. Realizing it wasn’t quite for him, he explored opportunities getting paid to compete.

When that, too, didn’t pan out, he realized his organizational and management skills could bring active events into Syracuse. Towards the end of college, Foxenberg said Hammond began to realize that event and race organization was his calling.

After graduating, Hammond spent four years in the marketing department at Fleet Feet Sports. Then he established InStride Sports LLC, where he has the freedom to organize races, manage events and promote healthy living in the Syracuse area. Hammond also continues to work for Ironman, which allowed him to bring into the Syracuse area the Ironman 70.3—half the distance of a full Ironman Triathlon—and the IronGirl Triathlon, of which Syracuse “had a need for,” Hammond said.

“Syracuse is sixth in the nation for triathlon clubs,” Hammond said. “And the Central New York Triathlon club is fourth in the nation in terms of size. It’s amazing. Those events could work.”

They work on several levels, Hammond said, because Syracuse is moving in the right direction in both health and economy. High-profile triathlons bring in competitive athletes, who can drive media and spectators to events and give everyone a sample of Syracuse.

“It’s really just finding it, and Syracuse is starting to find it,” Hammond said. “Young people are staying, and I can offer recreational events, things to do outside of work to keep you up year-round.”

Those year-round events feature the nationally branded Ironman triathlons, but Hammond emphasized how the half marathon influenced the community.

“It’s challenging but fun—more of a community event,” Hammond said. “People volunteer. We work with local businesses for sponsorships. And it brings people downtown.”

That positivity is contagious, Hammond said. He pointed to the increasing numbers of members in running and triathlon clubs and to the amount of people who came out to the Aug. 4 IronGirl Triathlon. Four years ago, only 700 people ran. But this year, 2,100 people participated in the race.

“My goal is to create a healthy lifestyle for Syracuse area in general,” Hammond said. “I want to show we do have a lot. The CNY region, we might fall in the Rust Belt, but the goal is to promote wellness and the area.”

Hammond hopes to organize about five events in 2014, up from the three he coordinated in 2013. The events will kick off March 22, 2014, with the Syracuse Half Marathon. The race, improved upon from its first incarnation last year, has been moved to Saturday, and will provide runners with a post-race after party featuring local brews and food.

“Community support—friends, business partners, volunteers. Especially volunteers,” Hammond said. There were more than one hundred volunteers at the IronGirl Triathlon this year; they staffed registration booths, monitored transition points, and directed traffic.

“This is a hobby, and if you love working in your hobby, it’s a completely different mindset,” Hammond said. “If people don’t donate their time race weekend, my job isn’t possible. So I can’t thank them enough.”

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