Plymouth residents and diehard fire department volunteers Steve and Joni Marti would say it themselves: The first couple of years of the Plymouth Firefighter 5K were less than glamorous. It was Steve Marti who came up with the idea for the event after running a similar race with another fire station, and then worked with the city of Plymouth on advertising and other organizational support. But in the early days of the Plymouth 5K, there was no celebrity kick-off, no finish-line fanfare and only around 150–200 runners. What a difference a decade can make. The two fun runs on September 26 will make up the 11th annual race event, and the Martis will have been along for all 55-plus kilometers.
The race, proceeds of which benefit the Plymouth Firefighters’ Relief Association, is close to the heart of Steve, a longtime firefighter for the city. In April, Steve and his wife, Joni, were presented the Fire Relief Association Award for their dedication to the department and in recognition of the funds (totaling more than $96,000) they had raised during their tenure.
Beyond the money, the experience the Martis have helped create has become one of Plymouth’s most anticipated events. The festivities begin with pre-race tours of the fire station, allowing visitors an up-close view of the space and equipment. Runners then make their way to the starting area, where a fitness instructor will lead a group warm-up before the celebrity starter announces the race. The 5K has amassed an impressive roster of celebrity announcers in the past few years, including KARE 11 team members and beloved sports mascots TC Bear and Goldy Gopher.
When the race begins, runners shouldn’t be surprised to find themselves running alongside local firefighters in full equipment or running behind the fire engines leading the race; these are the defining elements of the Firefighter 5K. The kids’ fun run (½ or 1 mile) follows, concluding with a post-race treat and a chance to watch Plymouth on Parade, another tradition that follows the races.
Fire Station II lieutenant Aaron Morris estimates that more than 500 runners participated last year, which almost tripled the race size since its inception in 2004. “Every year the race gets bigger and bigger,” assistant captain John Blake says: “Steve and Joni put in so many hours to rally the troops and make sure it’s a memorable community event.”
Community is, after all, what the event aims to showcase. Ask the Martis what the fire department means to the community, and they’ll speak of much more than putting on races or even putting out fires. “It’s very gratifying to help people when they are having a bad day, helping them solve problems, even if it’s just a chirping smoke detector,” Steve says.
Through all the years and all the fanfare—celebrity starters and magazine features—the Martis’ two favorite memories of the race say it all: Counting on resident Norm Olson, now in his early 90s, to be at the starting line every year, and watching their grandson, age 5, taking off for his very first kids’ fun run, from that same starting line (they now have two grandsons, ages 10 and 14). Steve Marti humbly sums it up like this: “We love being a part of bringing Plymouth together.”
7:30–8:45 a.m. check-in
8:30 a.m. warm up
9 a.m. 5K walk/run
10 a.m. Kids’ fun run
Plymouth Fire Station II, 12000 Old Rockford Road