Sioux Falls runners jingle all the way to support the Arthritis Foundation

Walkers pass the start line at the annual Jingle Bell Run in downtown Sioux Falls.
Walkers pass the start line at the annual Jingle Bell Run in downtown Sioux Falls.
Reese Duncan

On Nov. 24, over 200 runners gathered at Fawick Park in downtown Sioux Falls for the annual Jingle Bell Run, spreading holiday cheer and raising awareness for the over 150,000 South Dakotans living with arthritis.

The Jingle Bell Run is a national event put on by the Arthritis Foundation, with each race organized on a city level. In the Sioux Falls run, participants chose between running a 5K race circling the park or completing a one-mile walk on the bike trail. Holiday spirit was a key component of the race; runners wore outfits ranging from the Grinch to the ugliest of sweaters, many complete with shining Christmas lights. Even when 20-degree temperatures threatened to hinder the run’s success, community members bundled up and completed the routes to support arthritis research. Event organizer Taylor Van Emmerik made it all possible, spending the weeks prior setting up sponsors, facilitating fundraising and coordinating registration at 605 Running Company, an athletic store in the downtown area.

Families and friends gather to hear Taylor Van Emmerik discuss the impact of the race’s fundraising. (Reese Duncan)

“This race is a collaboration between the city, 605 Running Company and the Arthritis Foundation,” said Van Emmerik. “As an organizer, my main job is working with all of these other people to make this event happen.”

While the Arthritis Foundation designed the event with fun components in mind, the race centers around creating long-lasting impacts on South Dakotans struggling with arthritis, which includes an estimated 25.8% of the population. Every year, the registration fees from each runner go directly to the Arthritis Foundation and their efforts to support research for expanding treatments and finding potential cures for the disease. On top of this, the Jingle Bell Run urges participants to fundraise individually, thus optimizing the money going to the nonprofit. Sioux Falls raised over $24,000, beating out more populated cities, including Minneapolis, Minnesota and Richmond, Virginia. These funds will support people living with arthritis long after the holiday season ends.

“This race is our biggest fundraiser for South Dakota,” said Van Emmerik. “The funds go to finding a cure for arthritis, which is our main goal. They also go towards providing resources for pain management, and to events that we provide in South Dakota to build a community for people with arthritis in our population.”

While running in below-freezing temperatures may not be everyone’s preferred way to spend an evening, the Jingle Bell Run fosters a unique sense of interconnectedness in the Sioux Falls community. This distinctiveness pushes Van Emmerik’s organizational efforts, amplifying his passion for arthritis awareness. 

“I think one of the great things about the Jingle Bell Run is that it brings us together in a way that we may not be used to. We dress up in funny costumes and run a 5K. Where else can you say you can do that?” said Van Emmerik. “It also raises awareness for arthritis. Not a lot of people understand that arthritis is something that even kids can get. I think that understanding is what is really special about this event.”

The festive theme allured many family running groups, encouraging those of all ages to partake in the race. This includes father Seamus Walsh, who brought his two daughters Peyton and Harper, ages nine and 12, to experience their first Jingle Bell Run and the community impacts behind it.

Seamus Walsh and his two daughters ran the 5K at their first Jingle Bell Run, wrapped in Christmas lights the entire race. (Reese Duncan)

“I think these kinds of runs are just great for the community,” said Walsh. “It brings everyone together and it’s good for the area.”

The crowd also included runners whose lives have been affected by arthritis, including Sioux Falls native Rachel Stadem. Stadem’s joint health improved through physical therapy, allowing her to run her first 5K. For her, the race stood as a celebration of arthritis treatment and awareness.

“Races like these raise awareness by just existing,” said Stadem.

Now considered a staple in Sioux Falls holiday traditions, the Jingle Bell Run will continue building its support for the Arthritis Foundation and nestling its way into the hearts of Sioux Falls residents.

“I just had a blast this year, and I can’t wait for next year,” said Van Emmerik.

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