The Columbus Blue Jackets have constantly stated how important this All-Star weekend is for Columbus, an opportunity to show off this great city to the hockey world. Saturday morning, Blue Jackets fans proved just how much this weekend meant to them.
Approximately 3,600 runners and walkers filled Nationwide Blvd. in front of Nationwide Arena for the 2015 All-Star 5K Race presented by OhioHealth. It was the second such All-Star race, with the Carolina Hurricanes hosting a similar event at All-Star Weekend in 2011. That race drew roughly 800 participants.
“It’s another way Columbus is showing the world how we do things and how excited we are to have the All-Star Game here,” said Becky Magaw, the Blue Jackets’ partnership activation manager. Magaw said the turnout totally exceeded expectations.
“I keep saying, only 18,000 people get into the arena for the (2015 Honda NHL Skills Competition) and the All-Star Game and this is just another way for the community to take part,” said Magaw, who was also a leader in the planning of All-Star Winter Park presented by Worthington Industries.
“Working with OhioHealth, this was a great way to bring hockey and a healthy lifestyle together.”
The community certainly got behind this event, with so many participants that the final group of runners did not cross the starting point until approximately seven minutes after the race had started. Nationwide Blvd. was a river of hockey fandom, with thousands of fans braving the 30-degree weather in Blue Jackets hats and jerseys.
It was a great event for those visiting Columbus for the All-Star festivities, as well. Mixed in with the see of blue were jerseys from Chicago, Pittsburgh, Detroit, and numerous other cities. One runner went a step further, dressing in full goalie equipment.
Those runners ran a 3.1 mile course, leaving from Nationwide Arena, touring the downtown Columbus area, and then finishing back at the arena. The participants were treated to a touch of Blue Jackets game day celebrity as anthem singer Leo Welsh was on hand to sing “O Canada” and the “Star-Spangled Banner” at the race's outset. He then held the ribbon at the finish line.
Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards was also in the crowd to check out the action at the finish line.
Appropriately, the winner of Ohio’s All-Star 5K race was an Ohio native. Jeffrey Denny, a 22-year-old from Cincinnati, was the first to cross the finish line back at Nationwide Arena, with a time just a little over 15 minutes. He was surprised at just how big a field he had to beat.
“Online it said maximum registration was 4,000 and I thought there was no way that many people would be crazy enough to show up in the winter,” said Denny. "And then I got to the starting line and looked behind me and there were people for days. It’s awesome.”
"It’s an awesome atmosphere. It's pretty sweet.”