Three months before the inaugural Surfing Madonna Beach Run, Robert Nichols and his colleagues were ready to lace up their shoes.
“We were thinking of making a run to Mexico because we thought the Encinitas City Council would be coming after us with torches,” Nichols said with laugh. “It was a miracle what happened.”
The unexpected can occur when combining the Surfing Madonna image, aka the Virgin of Guadalupe shredding a wave, the legendary surf spots of North County and people trying to support both.
Nichols and Mark Patterson, the artist of the “Surfing Madonna,” a mosaic piece of art which draws thousands to Encinitas, are the driving forces behind the Oct. 26 seventh Surfing Madonna Beach Run 5K/10K/12K.
From its humble beginnings when a late registration push saved the event and its promise to Encinitas politicians to raise $5,000 for charity, the race has zoomed into the Guinness Book of World Records.
When some 3,500 runners pounded the shoreline, which starts at Moonlight Beach, in 2017 it became the largest hard-sand run in the history of mankind.
Really, it’s kindness which fuels this event, which is expected to draw nearly 4,000. When combining the Surfing Madonna Beach Run with its complementary event, the Encinitas Half Marathon, nearly $150,000 is collected for local charities.
Among those to feel the impact of those sand runners is the Surfing Madonna Surf Camp for Children with Special Needs, marine biology scholarships for local students, underwater trash clean ups, Encinitas’ Pacific View Arts and Ecology Center and other ocean, beach and park endeavors.
Having 500 volunteers handle the race-day chores, and the logistics leading up to it, makes sure the nonprofit based Surfing Madonna Oceans Project gets the most bang for its bucks.
“The runners and volunteers come for all different reasons,” Nichols said. “But they are all interested in helping the community.”
Vista’s Kayla Mosca, 10, is one of those benefiting from the Surfing Madonna Surf Camp for Children with Special Needs. Thanks to an adaptive surfboard, and her will to experience how keen being in the water can be, Kayla became a surfer.
“She loves to be in the water and feel the wind in her hair and just be out on the waves,” said Jennifer Mosca, her mother. “But it’s just not her. There are so many other kids that wouldn’t normally get to be out on the water, but they get a chance through the camp.”
Nichols, of Leucadia, thinks of Kayla and it proves the event’s dedication and focus is serving those needing it most. They get to appreciate something dear to his heart, whether that’s frolicking in the waves or just hanging on the beach, absorbing the positive vibes which accompany it.
More than 200 families join the surf camp a year, with some 1,400 families overall benefiting from it since its inception.
“The surf camp is a way we try to introduce people to the ocean,” he said. “A lot of people with kids that have special needs, they aren’t used to coming down to the ocean.
“So, we try to get them in the water and introduce the family to the ocean as well. We teach the parents that they can lay on the back of the boards with the kids and it gives the families the tools to do things that maybe they didn’t do before.”
Nichols puts those families in touch with the beach, with a huge assist from those eager to touch others by just running on the sand. Or by being a volunteer or donating to an event which is here for the long run.
“It’s been a wild ride,” Nichols said as he reflects on the Surfing Madonna Run’s humble beginnings. “But it’s been a lot of fun.”
If needing a grin or just the motivation to help others, run at the beach with Nichols and friends. He promises he won’t go as far south as Mexico.
Sportswriter Jay Paris has written his “Sports Talk” column since joining the Coast News in 2013.
Paris, a Cardiff resident, is a longtime Southern California writer, getting his start with the Orange County Register before coming to San Diego in 1992 to cover the Chargers.
He had the Chargers beat for more than two decades with Oceanside Blade-Citizen, the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, before being named a sports columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paris has won numerous awards voted on by his peers in the Pro Football Writers of America. He has also been a staple on countless media platforms, everything from the KPBS to MLB Network and various radio outlets.
Paris is also the author of three books, with his latest one being, “Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story Of Baseball’s Two-Way Japanese Superstar.” He has also written “Game Of My Life Chargers” and “Game Of My Life Rams.”
He currently covers the NFL in Los Angeles for Forbes. com and is a contributor to USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow Jay on Twitter @jparis_sports