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Inside the Chaos of MHCC's Organ Trail 5k with Tom Holt

Tom Holt's office is home to many things these days. It's a whirlwind of population health study numbers, stacks of papers, boxes of swag for upcoming races; the walls adorned with running memorabilia from multiple marathons and trail runs. "Sorry they took my chairs for another meeting, let me find you one," he says laughingly as I look for a place to sit.

It's still a tidy office on Memorial Hospital of Converse County's fourth floor. And as the landscape outside reminds us as we begin our conversation, it's getting time for MHCC's annual community offering for Halloween, The Organ Trail 5k. This is the second year for the autumnal run, which began as a fundraiser for the long-anticipated emergency department remodel. And it's this particular community event that is the emphasis of our meeting today.

"I was watching the Walking Dead and it's something that I thought, 'Hey, that would be awfully cool if we could have random, flickering television sets just on the street, or if we could have pallets of wood set up oddly... But if you can somehow get people involved where they did exercise, but they didn't know they exercised," recalled Holt thinking about how the idea for the 5k began. "It's kind of like say putting the participants in a movie, it's an experience."

Themed runs, in particular, are experiencing dynamic growth in the United States, from major brands like Disney to larger cities like Denver or Los Angeles fully endorsing and sponsoring a multitude of themed races. "I've done everything from color runs, bubble runs, slip n slide runs I've done like the rock 'n roll marathons where there's a band at every other mile, so it's fun. There's probably more spectators than there are runners along the course and they have their sprinklers out or they're giving out bottles of water or they're doing stuff," said Holt. "But really, that theme [zombies], it seemed like that was a theme that had been not utilized, or not used in this area."

Zombies, like theme runs, have also experienced a surge in the last two decades thanks in no small part to the more recent success of "The Walking Dead" on AMC. As well several of George A. Romero's "Dead" films received reboots, and in theaters across the country moviegoers have been treated to everything from the hyper-athletic zombies in Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later", to a romantic (if zombified) re-telling of Romeo and Juliet in "Warm Bodies". Literature has gotten in on the genre and fiction racks have housed apocalyptic tellings of when viruses run rampant and new plagues ruin societies as seen in works like "World War Z". Zombies are for lack of a better term: in. We as a country seem a little more than fascinated with the possibility of what would happen if the dead start to walk, or if civilization as we know it comes crumbling down around us.

Speaking of civilization, many levels of our local community are getting in on the fun of the evening to help set the mood and pay attention to the safety of all the participants. City of Douglas Public Works, Douglas Police, Sheriff's Department, Wyoming Highway Patrol, Fire Department, National Guard, local businesses, and the School District are all planning to join the healthcare community at MHCC in just a bit of pre-Halloween scares that are all in good fun. This takes some level of coordination ensuring all agencies and groups participating are well communicated with and know fully what to expect. "So of course we worked with city works, police department, sheriff's office. What's cool about the Sheriff's office, too," and with this Holt smiles and gets really excited, "this year, the two mounted sheriff's deputies are gonna actually paint bones on their horses."

What would a zombie run be without zombies? A slight change to the festivities this year, MHCC only took registrations for survivors and is working with multiple groups to supply our zombie teams. "We thought what would be cool is if I asked all the high school and middle school coaches. So now we have speech and debate from the high school, middle school football, DHS band, DHS choir, DMS cross-country, the cheerleaders. And then we also have Converse County Bank employees, the Fire Department's going to take part again. We have Peak Fitness, which are gonna be…" At this, we both decided that was a surprise on the course worth waiting for.

The Douglas community has also stepped up their involvement and has participated in ways that have surprised Tom. "I kind of figured at first that it would be a lot of adults that would choose to do it. Maybe more so the 'runner type'? But I've found that I guess it's surprising to me, is that this has kind of turned more into a walk event, not much of a run. It's not like a timed 5K where we're worried about time. It's just about doing it, the experience. The kids seem to like it. Especially the middle school and high school aged kids seemed to like it the most."

Taking this feedback into consideration after the close of last year's race the event team within MHCC worked to make changes based on what they learned from the first race. New this year is a one-mile costume walk that is a totally "green" experience. Meaning that there is limited zombie contact along the one-mile trail for those interested in participating without some of the more intense elements of the overall 5k. "The one-mile costume walk will start at the same time. Then they'll go through a green safe zone where there are no zombies, and then they turn in and they take a different route, 6th and 5th streets," noted Holt showing the aforementioned path on a map. "It's through the city blocks, but people with strollers and babies can still take part. Then they'll still, of course, come to the party at the end where we'll have food for any registrants and prizes to give away."

Awaiting the survivors back at the hospital's main building will be the after party, complete with food, prizes, antidote bottles and a pretty awesome swag bag from several sponsors. "So we have these string backpacks which will be full of all kinds of stuff! The Sheriff's Department donated all kinds of items, Converse County Bank is in there, the hospital has some giveaways. Then also, we've made custom cups for people. So it's not like a Frisbee that doesn't ever get used. This can be used all the time."

Hugely important to Tom, is that everyone is able to be a part of the event, "I think the biggest barrier that I have to try to break down is that I want to create events where the fitness level does not matter. Every single person is able to or can feel like they could do it. I guess one of my goals, even before being population health director at the hospital, is more opportunity for people to be active, especially getting outdoors."

As an event put on by the hospital there is a certain sense of reality to viruses, public emergency response to diseases, etc. And some of that reality actually made its way wholesale into the theme. "I talked to Eric our maintenance director, and then Giselle Grimes, our infection control nurse, who her job is to deal with infectious disease. So they, in the past, had to have a true decontamination tent test and enact how they would triage in that experience," "They said, 'Well, they're out of date but we have an actual decontamination tent, gas masks, and full body Tyvek zip-up jackets to give the feeling of a true decontamination tent on display for the event." So that was really cool that Giselle and Eric, that had practiced it, it was old, thankfully unused, outdated stuff that we hadn't thrown away, but now we can keep and keep using for the purpose of the Organ Trail," laughed Holt.

There are those who might wonder, 'What's hospital doing putting on an event like a zombie run?' So we posed this question to Holt for closing thoughts. "This is an event that's put on by the hospital, and know that yes, we are playing, we're having some fun with our town," reflected Holt. "Sometimes those in healthcare, they have really stressful jobs, so this is a good and fun way we have found of blowing off some steam with our community. It's all in good humor and fun, and I think most people get that."

For more information or to register for the Organ Trail Zombie 5k and 1 Mile Costume Walk Click Here. Have questions? Email Tom Holt by clicking here.