by Nathan Boddy
When Doug Martin, race organizer for Robert’s Run, addressed Hamilton City Council on June 7, he asked a simple question: “Can something good come from a tragedy?” He admitted he didn’t have the answer, but the Play Like Robert Foundation, which grew in the wake of Robert Leonardi’s untimely death in 2019, is certainly doing its best to make sure it does. .
Robert Leonardi was killed in 2019 by a fleeing motorist on Golf Course Road. The tragedy stunned the community, but some of the pain of Robert’s loss was put into action just days after the funeral. Doug Martin and his son, Grant, decided to organize a quick run in honor of Robert’s memory. The result was a mile-long race through parts of Hamilton and River Park, with close to 300 people participating. Martin says the event was very “basic”, but seemed to have an impact.
“When you exercise, you feel better chemically when you’re done,” says Martin. “Your brain chemistry changes. It was like a funeral on that first race, but when it was done, people were laughing. They were ready to cry together too, but there were hugs and laughter.
Philip Leonardi and Alyce Yoakam-Leonardi, Robert’s parents, are both educators in the Corvallis School District. Having seen the positive impact this first informal race had on a grieving community, they asked Doug Martin to continue to develop the event. Robert’s Run quickly became the primary fundraising tool for the Play Like Robert Foundation, which to date has injected nearly $30,000 into community projects. As educators, the Leonardis and the rest of the Foundation’s board have chosen to see those funds go to things like school playground equipment, books and reading programs, and sports equipment. . The Foundation also oversaw the creation of the RAL Trail which connects Golf Course Road to Eastside Highway near Tammany Lane. He hopes to see this trail widened to pass by Golf Course Road to Highway 93.
Martin says of the Foundation’s Board of Directors: “They want to do things that have an impact on children. It points to books the Foundation has purchased for area schools, each of which has a sticker on the inside cover, indicating that the book was donated, “In Loving Memory of Robert A. Leonardi.”
“A lot of the feedback we get from parents is that they’ll open the book on a nice night out with their child and see this sticker and realize, ‘hey, I better enjoy this moment.’ “
Another aspect of the Foundation is encouraging people to try something new, a trait Robert enthusiastically described during his short life. To this end, Robert’s Run also offers a “Play as Robert” option which encourages participants to participate in a wide variety of activities and submit their photo wearing the event bib. Activities are unlimited, such as hiking, boating, hunting, fishing, etc. As stated on the event’s website, the goal is “to be active for a good cause”.
Doug Martin, himself a physical therapist and avid fitness advocate, sees Robert’s Run and the Play as the Robert Foundation as a fantastic way to be physically healthy, but also to engage in a family and community event. “It’s the most meaningful thing I’ve ever done,” he says. “Making a difference at this level is hard to put your finger on.”
Robert’s Run will take place on Saturday August 6th and promises to be a well organized and high level event. Interested participants can learn more by visiting the event website at: https://runsignup.com/Race/MT/Hamilton/RobertsRun. For more information on the Play Like Robert Foundation, visit: https://www.playlikerobert.org/home.