To celebrate the 40th running of Bloomsday next week, I’m re-posting a May, 2013 post about the circumstances which led to the founding of Spokane’s biggest road race.
The nation’s second largest run by number of timed finishers, Bloomsday was founded by Don Kardong, the fourth place finisher in the 1976 Olympic marathon. I watched 1976 Olympic marathon gold medalist, Frank Shorter, win the very first run in 1977. Don Kardong finished third in that race, and he’s currently the Bloomsday race director.
The idea for Bloomsday was hatched by Don Kardong the same day as a long line of people were waiting at the Spokane YMCA for handouts of surplus cheese on a cold November morning in 1976, which the United States Department of Agriculture arranged frequently back then.
As the time neared for the cheese to be distributed, a YMCA official appeared and announced that there’d been an error in the newspaper. The cheese was not at the YMCA, but at the YWCA, located just a few blocks away. The crowd broke into a run.
Mr. Kardong, enjoying a quiet, contemplative stroll, was surprised to find a sprinting mob coming at him. To avoid being trampled, he ran a short distance and turned into the first parking lot, which happened to be the YWCA. Merely wanting to escape, he somehow ended up first in line, and was given two large bricks of cheese. A reporter covering the event wrote a front page story the next day vilifying Kardong for taking advantage of a program for the needy and as well, using his running ability to get to the front of the line. Kardong says, “I got a bum rap for that, but man, was that cheese good! I ate an entire brick as I walked home. I saved the other, and today it’s on display at the Bloomsday Hall of Fame.”
Inspired by the sprinting mob, Kardong started the Race for Surplus Cheese. Over time, a more dignified name was sought. Thus, Bloomsday.