Like just about every other soul in south Louisiana, Eric Stuart is a Saints fan.
And though hundreds of thousands of people may claim to have been in the Superdome 10 years ago when the Saints beat the Atlanta Falcons in the first real home game since Hurricane Katrina, Stuart actually was. He was with his brother-in-law that Monday night and he witnessed the emotional 23-3 victory that was sparked by Steve Gleason’s blocked punt that Curtis Deloach recovered in the end zone for the game’s first touchdown.
“I’m not the kind of guy who gets too emotional in public, but I openly cried that night,” Stuart said. “It was an extremely emotional time, and an emotional game. There were a lot of people who hadn’t returned home yet. It’s hard to describe, but it was powerful.”
Plenty strong emotions are expected to run through Gleason Gras 2016, a festival of food, drink, music, and an increasingly popular road race all of which is scheduled Saturday. That’s two days before the Saints host Atlanta on Monday Night Football, and it’s exactly one day shy of the 10-year anniversary of Gleason’s block and the Saints’ homecoming win.
The Gleason Classic is a 3.7-mile road race that is billed as the World’s Longest 5K. The usual 5K distance is 3.1 miles, but the distance is in deference to Gleason’s old No. 37 jersey. That’s the number he was wearing 10 years ago, and it’s a number so many people have come to symbolize with the determination and resolve Gleason has shown in his ongoing battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).
Though the Gleason Gras festival is in its sixth year, this is only the second year for the road race. Last year, about 1,000 people participated in the race, and Stuart (the co-race director) anticipates 1,500 or more this year. An estimated 5,000 people attended the Gleason Gras post-race fest in 2015.
All proceeds from the race and festival will raise awareness for ALS as well as support the Gleason Family Trust, which has been set up to offset the former NFL player’s costs of living with the disease.
“When (co-race director Mark Berger and I) were contacted about starting this race last year, we said, ‘Whatever we can do to help.’ What Steve continues to do for the city, the support he gives to so many people who have been affected by ALS, he embodies the spirit of giving. Organizing this race is the least we can do.”
The race will be the first organized race held primarily on the Lafitte Greenway. It will begin at 9:30 a.m. at the Team Gleason House at St. Margaret’s on Bienville Street in Mid-City, and follow the Greenway downtown to North Prieur Street in the Treme. It will loop back to Bayou St. John, and wind along both sides of the waterway, cross a footbridge near Cabrini High School, and end back at St. Margaret’s.
“It’s a really great course,” Stuart said. “It’s one I’d want to run.”
Runners of all abilities are expected to take part, including some of the area’s fastest racers, who most likely are die-hard Saints fans just like Stuart, he said.
After the race, the festival will include ample food and drink, merchandise sales, a Microsoft Kids Area, face painting, a sports bar with college games playing on multiple TVs, an auction, and live music by Bonerama, Hot 8 Brass Band, Bag of Donuts, Paul Varisco & the Milestones, John Michael, Tre-G with special guest Supa Saint (performing “The Dome is on Fire”) and more. The 610 Stompers also will perform. Gleason Gras will end at 8 p.m.
Team Gleason House is located at St. Margaret’s, 3525 Bienville Street.
Cost to enter the race is $45 until race day and $55 on race day. Entry to the festival is $5 in advance and $10 at the gate. VIP tickets (which include access to a special VIP tent) are $250 for adults in advance, and $300 at the gate. VIP tickets for children 15 and younger cost $50.
Gleason Gras is hosted by Thomas Morestead’s What You Give Will Grow organization, and the event is inspired by Team Gleason, which raises money and awareness for the people fighting ALS.
For more information, to register for the race, or to purchase advance tickets to Gleason Gras, go online to www.gleasongras.org. You also can connect on social media at www.facebook.com/GleasonGras, and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/gleasonGras.