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As co-race director of #SongStrong5K, one of the first things Scott Markovich (center, in red) did was to bring in his company, Aetna, as the title sponsor. Here, he’s shown with members of his team who flew in from points across the country to volunteer at the inaugural race event in 2018. Soon, his team, together with many other volunteers, sponsors, businesses, organizations, and the Guilford community, will once again rally around the mission and message of the Ethan Miller Song Foundation at the second annual #SongStrong5K, coming to the Guilford fairgrounds Saturday, June 8. (Photo courtesy of Scott Markovich )
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At a time when Ethan’s Law is headed for Connecticut’s legislative finish line, and helping to frame a bill at the federal level, Ethan Song’s hometown of Guilford will rally around his family once again at the second annual #SongStrong5K, coming to the Guilford fairgrounds Saturday, June 8.
As co-race director, Scott Markovich is astounded, but not surprised, at how quickly and effectively the mission and message of the Ethan Miller Song Foundation has taken root, and that momentum includes the incredible support that has already made this 5K a dominant community event.
“When this all started and we did the first 5K last year, one of the core principles of the race was, ‘Let’s raise money to keep kids safe.’ And that’s been kind of the thread that’s woven through, from that point on,” says Scott. “The biggest thing that I see with [Ethan’s Law] is that this bill has bipartisan support, and what’s so important about that is the Songs have created an opportunity where we have a conversation, and it’s not like a battle, [so] both sides were able to come together and do something good. Mike and Kristin set those wheels in motion with the way they approached all of this, and I think that’s why we are where we are.”
Two weeks ago, the State House of Representatives passed the bill, which puts new requirements on gun owners to store firearms safely so they remain out of children’s hands. The State Senate is expected to pass the bill at its June 5 session. On May 21, a local delegation was headed to Washington, D.C. to introduce a bill framed on Ethan’s Law to the U.S. House of Representatives, a companion bill of which was introduced in the U.S. Senate in January.
Founded in Tragedy
In January 2018, Ethan, 15, died due to a handgun accident with a gun owned by a father of a friend. In March of 2018, as family friends of the Songs, Scott and race co-director Dan Montgomery put their hearts into pulling together a 5K race to assist the Song family with their newly created Ethan Miller Song Foundation.
“When we started this, I remember Dan and I said we’d love to have 500 people show up,” recalls Scott. “And then we kept on watching registration going up and up [until] we had over 1,200 people registered to run.”
A link to online registration for this year’s race, where registrants can also opt to become a fundraiser, is available now at www.songstrong.org. Those who register by Wednesday, June 5 save $5 off the $30 race-day fee; and can pick up their race packet and race T-shirt from the #SongStrong5K team Thursday, June 6 and Friday, June 7 between 4 and 8 p.m. outside Ashely’s Ice Cream, 942 Boston Post Road (registration for new racers will also be available at the packet pick-up site).
Race-day registration opens 8:30 a.m. on June 8 at the Guilford Fairgrounds on Lovers Lane. The race event includes an age 8 and under Kids Fun Run (9:45 a.m. start, $5 registration, optional $5 T-shirt); followed by the 5K Run/Walk start at 10 a.m. Post-race events include giveaways, informational exhibits, visits with pet therapy dogs, food truck selections, and race sponsors providing family friendly activities including an obstacle course, photobooth, face painting, a DJ, and much more.
Scott credits Dan with making the race exciting for runners, as it takes place on a U.S. Track and Field Certified Course with panoramic views of Long Island Sound and the Guilford Green. The race has prizes for first overall male and female as well as top three male/female in nine age groups, from 10 and under up through 70 and over.
“Dan’s the runner of the two of us—I’m not a runner—and Dan felt very strongly last year if we had this track certified by U.S. Track and Field that it would bring more people to the race, which I think was a great decision he made,” says Scott. “What we’ve also learned from last year is this certainly is a 5K race, but it also turned out to be a big community event on the fairground, and most of the people that came were from Guilford. So that’s sort of the lens that I’ve been looking through at the race this year: This is a big community event.”
Scott handles marketing and sponsorships for the 5K. Last year, the first potential sponsor he sought out was his own company, Aetna, where he is a vice president of business development. Last year, the company president signed Aetna on as the event’s title sponsor, and “Aetna wants to do even more than they did last year,” says Scott of the company’s repeat as title sponsor this year.
He’s grateful to all of the 5K’s many sponsors of all levels, as well as the businesses, organizations, volunteers and community members who show support, in so many ways, for this event.
“I think there’s a couple of things that drive this,” he says. “The community has rallied around the Songs since the day Ethan passed away, and that support continues. And then so many of the businesses in town, whether it be through financial donations, in-kind donations, service donations, product donations—so many different organizations have stepped up to help us. I think we built a gigantic foundation last year, based upon this race. We expect this year will be very similar. Sponsors from last year, they stepped up again this year.”
One such show of support last year included 50 Aetna employees who came to Guilford to volunteer at the race—with several of them flying in from points across the country.
“We had people from across the country from Aetna come in to support the day, and man the booths that Aetna had set up. One was from Kansas City, one was from Arizona, [another] was from North Carolina...These are folks on my team who report to me—they flew in to support me, and to be there at the event,” says Scott.
‘Keep Ethan’s Memory Alive’
Scott’s story of how he came to support the Songs comes from the heart, as his oldest son, Logan, was one of Ethan’s closest friends.
“Logan and Ethan were best friends. They became very close when they were at Adams [Middle School] together. Our house was kind of like the hangout house. He was there every other weekend; he was there the Saturday before he passed away,” says Scott. “So Ethan was a fixture in our home for a long time, and he’d always come through that door with a smile and laughter.
“We have a lot of great memories of him, and it gives me comfort that we can do something good because of all of this,” he says. We can keep Ethan’s memory alive, and really do things for the community that keep kids safe, and focus on things Ethan cared about.”
The entire Markovich family gets involved in assisting with the 5K event, including Scott’s wife Brandy and their younger son Caden. In all, it takes between 200 to 300 volunteers to make the event run, he notes.
“Last year, there were so many different volunteers that stepped up just to own pieces of this process. Dan and I coordinate it all, but there are volunteers we lean very heavily on to take care of things like registration and water for the runners,” etc., Scott says.
By the time the race rolls around, Scott and Dan will have put in more hours than they can count to get the event up and running, and while the day of the race is a long day for both, it’s also absolutely energizing, says Scott.
“One of the first impressions I had last year is I was so amazed at how effortlessly it all came together,” says Scott, who was at the grounds at 5:30 a.m. last year to set up. “I remember standing on the fairgrounds that morning, and there was nothing there but myself and Dan with Logan and my Jeep, with cones in the back that we were setting up on the race course to guide the runners. It was pretty empty, and then, around 7 or 7:30, the vendors started to come in, and the Aetna folks started to come in, and everything started to take shape.”
As racers and supporters began to arrive, the field filled with people dressed in #SongStrong5K red T-shirts, he recalls.
“Just before the race started, I took a panoramic photo from up on the fire truck, and I said to Mike [Song] ‘Just look at the sea of red that’s out there,’” Scott recalls.
And, while he’s “not a runner,” Scott donned a red T-shirt and took to the 5K race course last year. He’s going to it again this year.
“The last time I had run a 5K was over 20 years ago, but I said, ‘I’m going to do this,’ and I did it. I didn’t have a time goal. I just wanted to cross the finish line, which I did!” he says.
You have to ask—wasn’t he exhausted, following that run?
“So the exhaustion didn’t happen ‘til maybe the next day or so,” says Scott. “But the energy, the enthusiasm, and the purpose drove all of us that day to make this event, for the Song family and for the community, the absolute best it could be. And I would not change one thing we did last year, except to say that this year, there are even more things we’ve added, because we’re getting even more support.”
On a personal note, Scott values the friendship he’s formed with the dad of his son’s friend.
“Through all of this, my connection to Mike has become so close,” says Scott. “Our kids were very close, but it’s like anything else—Ethan would come over, they’d drop him off, he’d run in the house, they’d leave, and you’d wave to them, and that was about it. But since all of this happened, I have just grown to love that guy. He’s a great guy. He wants to do the right thing for other kids—helping keep kids safe. Both he and Kristin are such an inspiration. Their resiliency, and the way that they stay focused on keeping kids safe, and their mission, it’s inspiring. Any little part I can do to help move this mission along, I’m all in.”
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