Growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, Richard Bouckaert was three hours away from Kansas City — the nearest NFL town. Given that distance, he really didn’t think about the Chiefs all that much.

But once he came to study at Loyola University in the fall of 2003, Bouckaert was dropped into the center of one of the most rabid NFL fan bases. It didn’t take long for him to become an avid follower of the hometown team.

“I went to my first NFL game the year that I got here, and it was the Saints against the Vikings,” Bouckaert said. “I fell in love with the Saints right then and there.”

The love affair continues for Bouckaert and more than 1,000 other runners who are scheduled to take part in the Gleason Classic on Saturday. The 3.7-mile race is a fundraiser for former Saints player Steve Gleason, who has ALS.

The race, specifically designed to be 3.7 miles in honor of Gleason’s No. 37 jersey, is set to begin at Team Gleason House on 3525 Bienville St. in Mid-City. The race is an out-and-back that will travel along Bayou St. John to City Park and then return.

The event is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. “Gleason Gras,” a festival featuring live music, food, and drink will be held from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. at Team Gleason House.

For Bouckaert and many other of the New Orleans area’s best long distance runners, the event is an easy one to add to the calendar.

“It’s very easy to pull for Steve and to pull for the Saints,” Bouckaert said. “I’m really looking forward to it.”

Other top runners expected to take part are Brandon Wingate, Sean Allerton, and possibly Pat Gavin and Ian Carr, race officials said. Along with Bouckaert, those are five of (quite possibly) the 10 best metro area runners currently.

This will be the fifth year Gleason Gras will be held, but the first time the fundraiser will have an accompanying race.

“This is a chance for us to give back,” said Eric Stuart, co-race director of the Gleason Classic, as well as director of the annual Crescent City Classic. “We said ‘Let’s work on this to produce a first-class event with the Classic name behind it.’ That almost automatically lets people know they are going to have a superior road race. And this one should be great. It’s a really cool course with some great sight-seeing out there.”

Team Gleason recently was named one of 14 charities the Crescent City Classic will benefit next year. Gleason himself is scheduled to be the official starter of the Gleason Classic.

“He just connects so incredibly with the community,” said Laine Thomas, co-director of the Gleason Classic. “He’s an icon, and he’s a hero in New Orleans.”

Cost to enter the race is $55 on race day (7-8 a.m., with limited availability.) Cost for youths 15-and-younger is $20. Festival admission is $10 at the gate (fee is waived if entered in the race.)

Race entry includes a Team Gleason T-shirt, food, drink, and more. Entertainment will include Paul Varisco and the Milestones at 11 a.m.; Tysson at 12:45 p.m.; The 610 Stompers at 2 p.m; Flow Tribe at 2:30 p.m.; Big Sam’s Funky Nation at 4 p.m.; and Better Than Ezra at 5:30 p.m. Some of the city’s top restaurants will be serving food. VIP tickets (tax deductible) are available at the gate, as well.

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