No one can accuse last year’s inaugural Mercedes-Benz Stadium 5K/Walk Like MADD of not going the extra mile. When the Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta United and the Atlanta Track Club all joined forces to help the Georgia chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving put on its annual fundraiser, they threw open the doors of the brand new gleaming stadium downtown so participants could finish on the 50 yard line and catch glimpses of themselves on the spectacular Halo Board on the way in.
It connected like a Matt Ryan-to-Julio Jones touchdown pass: 9,235 people took part, more than doubling the number for MADD Georgia’s 2016’s event and raising $517,000 for MADD Georgia.
So no one should be surprised that the second Mercedes-Benz Stadium 5K/Walk Like MADD on Sept. 15 will go an extra extra mile.. The 5K, one mile and 50 meter dash (for ages 6 and younger) all will follow the same route as last year and again finish up on the 50-yard line of the stadium that will host the next Super Bowl.
“When you tell a child that they’re going to get to run on the same field just a few hours before Julio Jones does, you should see their eyes light up,” event co-chair Amy Sands said on Wednesday, one day before the Atlanta Falcons were to help kick off the NFL season with a road game against the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
But the races are only the beginning this year. Afterwards, there’ll be a four-hour party at the Home Depot Backyard, the new 11-acre greenspace located on the site of the old Georgia Dome that’s been transformed into a tailgating and community event area. Dubbed the “Dash to the Backyard,” it will feature live music, food trucks, kids activities and more. It runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m and is free and open to the public, whether or not they participated in any of the actual races.
“It’s going to be weekend-long at some point,” Angela Blank said half-jokingly about the ever expanding Mercedes-Benz Stadium 5K/Walk Like MADD event.
Blank, who’s married to Falcons and Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank, has once again joined forces with fellow powerhouse MADD Georgia volunteer Sands to co-chair this year’s event. Last year, the duo told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about how they initially met and bonded over their shared commitment to the cause -- Sands’s son, Tyler, was killed by a drunken driver in 2012 and Angie Blank’s father and ex-husband both passed away from alcoholism-- and how the powerhouse team behind this event developed:
“Five years ago, the CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving spoke at the NFL owners meeting about their partnership with the league, including how some teams were working with local MADD volunteers on programs.
The Atlanta Falcons weren’t one of those teams, a fact that didn’t sit particularly well with owner Arthur Blank or his future wife.
“I talked to Arthur that day at lunch about getting the Falcons involved,” recalled Angela Blank, who married the Falcons owner and Home Depot co-founder in 2016, after a two-year engagement. His response: If she was interested, ‘You can take that on.’”
Angie Blank says it was Falcons’ president Rich McKay who came up with the idea of combining the team’s already existing popular annual race, the Rise Up and Run 5K, with MADD Georgia’s fundraising walk. That first combined event in 2016 finished up inside the Georgia Dome and was successful enough that a top NFL executive attended last year’s race to see if some of what’s being done here could be replicated in other NFL cities.
There’ll be other perks for this year’s participants, including a commemorative medal featuring a unique cutout outline of Mercedes-Benz Stadium and access to $15 tickets to select Atlanta United FC games.
Online registration continues through 11:59 p.m. on September 11. The 5K starts at 7:30 a.m. and costs $30 to enter through the online cutoff date and $40 afterwards. (See race web site for times and prices of other races). Registration also is available on race day and at the Atlanta Track Club located at 201 Armour Drive from 7 a.m.-4 p.m. on Sept. 13 and 14. That’s also when you can do early race number pickup and have a genuine celebrity encounter: Freddie Falcon will be at the Atlanta Track Club both days from 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
MARTA will start running at 5 a.m. on race day and online race registrants only will get free parking. And if you hang around long enough post-race, well, the Atlanta Falcons will take on their fierce divisional rival the Carolina Panthers at 1 p.m. on Sept. 16.
“It’s almost like a pep rally the day before the home opener,” Angie Blank chuckled about the one-two combination of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium 5K/Walk Like MADD and the Dash to the Backyard. “You can spend the whole day downtown and help a great cause.”