Even though Tom Grantham will survey the Crazylegs Classic course from the driver’s seat of a pace car, his excitement hasn’t diminished for the event.
Competitors and officials will celebrate the 35th annual event today with the 8-kilometer run, named in honor of former Badgers football player and athletic director Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch and held as a fundraiser for the University of Wisconsin athletic department. Grantham, the general chairman and one of the race’s founders, has competed in or been present for every single Crazylegs.
The first edition of Crazylegs in 1982 drew 1,525 runners and raised $9,500. A 2-mile walk was added to the festivities in 1987. In 34 years, Crazylegs has brought in approximately $3 million for the athletic department and drawn more than 316,500 participants.
Grantham said he’s thrilled with the tradition and success that’s been built over three-plus decades. The all-time record for registrants took place in 2010 with 20,445 runners and walkers. A total of 15,594 participated in 2015.
Grantham and a few college friends hatched the idea for the run over beers at Charley’s Cafe, and Hirsch — who went on to a career in the NFL and as an actor before finding his way back to UW — didn’t hesitate to lend his support. Money raised was used to endow athletic scholarships.
“He was such a charismatic guy and such a fabulous athlete, his days with the Rams and so forth,” Grantham said of Hirsch, who attended every Crazylegs until his death in January 2004.
“He came in with such enthusiasm for Badgers athletics and turned things around. He was so gracious about it, and what’s really neat about it is to be able to pick up the name Crazylegs and have an 8K run.”
Crazylegs is now back in the hands of athletic department officials, who oversaw the run for its first 18 years. The event was operated by the National W Club from 2001-2015, but the club — which was a non-profit, private entity with three employees — was absorbed into the UW athletic department in November 2015.
No monetary prizes will be awarded to the top three male and female finishers as in years past.
A few other changes occurred in 2016 — a slight increase in the 8K run registration price to $45, and Crazylegs not being held the same day as the spring football game, which was played last Saturday.
The spring game and Crazylegs finish-line celebration shared space in Camp Randall Stadium in 2015. It marked only the fourth time in the past 15 years the game and run were on the same date.
When Crazylegs started in 1982, the run, spring game and Butch’s Bologna Bash shared the same date. Butch’s Bologna Bash ended in 2002 following a 31-year run as an athletic department fundraiser. Crazylegs switched to another weekend in 2001 and has prospered as a standalone event.
Doreen Dower, a senior development specialist with the National W Club, said the date for the spring football game is decided on by UW football coach Paul Chryst and his staff.
“It has to do with when they go out and recruit, so the later it is, the tougher it is for their recruiting time,” Dower said. “They want to get the game going earlier.”
Grantham sees the event as a rite of spring for casual and elite runners to kick-start their season.
“When you go down to the bottom of Langdon Street and head over the hill and all the way out to the turn and Picnic Point, it is a heck of a neat run,” Grantham said. “That’s what runners like is the variation of the course.
“For what goes on in this town and what sports mean to a lot of people in this town, it seemed like a nice event to do and that’s why we get such a great turnout.”
Grantham and Mike Cerniglia, the National W Club president, selected Badgers men’s basketball coach Greg Gard as this year’s Crazylegs grand marshal.
Gard hasn’t laced up his running shoes in a bit but said he’s honored with the responsibility and looking forward to today’s race.
“It’s clear that running prowess was not a prerequisite for this title because I can’t remember the last time I did a five-mile run,” Gard said. “But this is one of Madison’s signature events and I’m excited to be involved.”