John Gonzalez is the founder and race director of the RiNo 5K. He is a six-year Denverite by way of Austin, Texas, and his running career spans 16 marathons. By day, he works in cyber security and by night, he is a social entrepreneur.
What inspired you to start the RiNo 5K in 2017, and what makes this race unique?
After working for the Austin Marathon, I was inspired to produce my own running event. Our team planned for almost a year in order to produce an event that people trained for, through blood, sweat and tears, and poured their hearts and souls into on race day. The RiNo 5K runs through an amazing part of Denver and by fantastic street art found nowhere else in the city. We feature almost completely local sponsors. The course is fast and flat and competitive for teams and individuals, yet welcoming to all ability levels.
Why is it important to you to give back to a charity through this race, and why did you choose Denver Rescue Mission as its charitable partner?
We’re a local event, and I strongly believe in giving back to the local community. I started volunteering at the Mission when I first moved to RiNo in 2016. I biked by the Lawrence Street Community Center twice a day, to and from work. I decided I couldn’t ignore the people surrounding the building who are in need, so I began serving meals. After a few shifts, I realized I could combine my desire to own a running event and passion to help those experiencing homelessness. With the Mission being so close to RiNo, it seemed like a perfect fit.
What are some long-term goals that you have for this event, and how do you hope to continue raising awareness and support for the Mission through this race?
I’d love to see the RiNo 5K become one of Denver’s premiere running events. This partnership continually makes me think about how I can influence runners to do more. Sometimes selflessness requires a nudge. I think too many of us are passive about the absurdities we witness throughout life. There’s a humanitarian crisis facing our city, and I want the RiNo 5K to inspire conversations and action far beyond money–engage, empathize and contribute.
You spent some time volunteering at the Mission during the COVID-19 crisis. Why did you feel inspired to volunteer?
I believe that our morals and values are tested during trying times. The Mission asked for volunteers, and I saw an opportunity rise to the occasion. It is easy to do the right thing when it’s convenient or externally rewarding. Our character is tested during crises. What good is it to only show compassion when it’s convenient? That defeats the purpose.
Why is it important to you to help break the cycle of homelessness in Denver?
Simply put, we have the ability to help people, and we should. We tend to accept a situation as it is without considering an alternative or even the causes, and yet we judge or criticize without offering solutions or helping. “Someone else will do it” or “it’s not my problem” is one of the worst attitudes one can have. It is important to break the cycle of homelessness because we can, and I believe it is possible to improve the lives of thousands of people.
This post is part of July’s Changing Lives Newsletter. This month, you’ll learn about Albert, a former Mission volunteer, and how your gifts have helped him overcome addiction and find hope in the road that lies ahead.