When the starting line begins at home: Annual Steps for Students 5K race goes virtual in 2021

October 13, 2020

Racers reach the finish line at the 2020 Steps for Students race in February. In 2021, the race will start and end at home as the annual event goes virtual. (File photo by James Ramos/Herald)

HOUSTON — The annual Steps for Students 5K fundraiser, which usually draws thousands of participants to downtown Houston, will be going virtual Feb. 20, 2021, to keep Catholic school students and staff safe.

“We are adapting to COVID-19 restrictions. Mayor Sylvester Turner is not granting permits to close streets for events through the end of the year, so we decided to launch a virtual 5k,” said Steps Race Director Suraiya Culp.

To keep the feeling of community, each Catholic school will receive a “race in a box” with spirit items such as banners to hold its own 5K while keeping socially distant.
“Plus, each Steps registrant will receive a race shirt and a medal to commemorate the event as an added incentive,” Culp said.

Daniel Cardinal DiNardo and Catholic Schools Office Superintendent Debra Haney will record videos to cheer on the schools and encourage other supporters.

Haney said, “I am really excited about the new experience for our schools and look forward to seeing how the schools use their creativity and ingenuity to make this event fun and engaging for their communities. Our schools have a real opportunity to involve their entire parish and school communities, as well as their alumni and former staff members; this could be the best Steps for Students we’ve ever had in terms of participation and engagement.”

Culp said other organizations are conducting virtual races, including a pending Thanksgiving race and a Fourth of July race this past summer that netted more than usual as a virtual event.

For the logistics, registrants will need to download an app called RaceJoy, an interactive race experience, said Steps race timer Richard Littrell.

“Runners and spectators can download the app, fill out a profile for registration and hit start whenever they’re ready to run,” Littrell said.

The app automatically times and stops when the 5K mark is reached, he said.

“You can include your custom cheer like the ‘Rocky” movie theme or have the kids yell out ‘Go, Mom!’ It’s all on your phone, watch or headphones,” Littrell said. “It’s easy but engaging and exciting.”

“Technically, anyone around the world can register for the virtual event. So we can reach out to school alumni and family members outside of Houston, which opens up a lot of opportunity,” he said.

Diana Skouby, a parent with a 13-year-old attending St. Edward Catholic School in Spring, said she is excited about helping to coordinate the virtual Steps for Students 5K for their school.

“I agree this is best because of health concerns. We’re discussing hosting our 5K on our track we have around the soccer field and keep runners socially distant,” Skouby said.

“Our pastor and principal are also very active with Steps. For the kick-off, we may have parents with pom-poms and posters saying ‘Register Today’ at drop-off and pick-up points,” she said.

Funds raised from Steps for Students help Catholic schools purchase new computers, pay for faculty and student events, and tuition assistance. St. Edward raised $18,000 and has set a $20,000 goal for 2021, she said.

“I’m a product of Catholic schools from pre-K to my master’s degree, so we’re very supportive. The Archdiocese does a lot of the legwork for you with sponsors and T-shirts. You just register and show up,” Skouby said.

“In fact, I just recently walked a virtual race from my old high school in Long Island. I wore school colors, walked and posted my time. When we first moved to Houston in 2016, I was amazed and motivated by Steps for Students,” she said. “It was heartwarming to see thousands of people supporting Catholic education.”

She and her husband, David Skouby, who is discerning in the Archdiocese’s diaconate program, will again be helping as volunteers.

Overall, Steps raised more than $980,000 during the 15th annual event last February, said Julie Eberle, Archdiocese associate director of development and special events.

Registration this year opened on Oct. 7, and the first 1,000 people who register before the end of October will only pay $15, Eberle said. The price goes up to $20 after October.

For more information on registration and to donate to Steps for Students, visit www.steps4students.org. †