By 10 a.m. Saturday, Chris Geary’s face and hands were covered in yellow powder as she prepared for the day ahead. As service director for evaluation, special events, special projects and sponsorships for IU Recreational Sports, she is in charge of the Jill Behrman Color the Campus 5K Run/Walk.
About 15 minutes later, Jill Behrman’s childhood friend Kristin Nelson arrived at the race as she did 17 years ago and every year for the past five years since the JB5K became a color run.
Soon after that, Eric Behrman, Jill’s father, walked up to the painting of his daughter that he and Jill’s mother donated to the Student Recreational Sports Center some years ago.
Jill is painted as a freshman in her dorm and is smiling in a yellow shirt that matches her bright personality. The artist made sure to include Jill’s favorite necklace and teddy bear in the frame, Eric said.
By this time, Marilyn Behrman, Jill’s mom, was late, but no one was particularly worried. She’s never on time, Geary said. Not for the weekly board meetings she attends Monday nights and not even for this, the 5K race honoring her daughter.
Jill was late once, too. On May 31, 2000, right after the end of her freshman year, she was supposed to meet her grandparents for dinner after a shift at the SRSC, but she disappeared before she and her bike could make it to the restaurant.
Her body was found in 2003 by hunters in the Morgan County woods.
In her honor, people like Geary and her parents have helped develop the JB5K from almost nothing to what is now — IU’s first and only color run and walk to promote safety awareness and to encourage fun and fitness.
During the past 17 years, they have all watched this 5K do something Jill no longer can — grow.
As a biker, volleyball player, weightlifter and generally healthy person, Jill would have loved to participate in the JB5K, Marilyn said.
Although Jill was a business major her freshman year, Marilyn said the 19-year-old was leaning more toward exercise science by the end.
“She always felt that was a good use of her time,” Marilyn said. “She’d rather be doing something than sitting around watching TV.”
Only the past five years of the 5K have been a color run, and during this time the student board that makes decisions about the run has created a vibrant event.
As part of their sign-up fee, participants were given neon sweatbands, white sunglasses and white shirts. The T-shirt designs had purple, blue and green color splashes in the middle that said “Color the Campus” followed by either “Safe,” “Strong” or “Aware.”
Employees from the SRSC led the sea of white shirts in a cardio hip-hop warm up to help everyone get loose before the race began.
Jill’s father said he knows the combination of exercise and fun would have been a perfect fit for his daughter.
He said Jill was always smiling and “lots of times she was singing.” He was once told by one of the SRSC supervisors she walked in on Jill singing while she cleaned the yoga mats at her job, a task most people would have complained about.
Nelson, Jill’s friend who grew up with Marilyn as her babysitter, recalled how fun Jill was. She said Jill always kept a positive attitude no matter what.
Nelson said the color run is important to her because it raises money for safety and helps her stay connected with the Behrmans even though Nelson no longer lives in Bloomington.
“To me, it’s not just some random 5K that you do for fun,” Nelson said. “It actually raises money for a good cause.”
The concept of an October 5K at IU predated Jill, Marilyn said. Originally, the race, called Run for the End-Zone, was put on by the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, now the School of Public Health. It only had about 400 participants annually, and many of those were local cross-country teams instead of IU students.
After Jill disappeared, the Berhmans and Geary took over the race and it was renamed the Jill Behrman Run for the End-Zone.
“When we first started, it was kind of to just keep her name in the media,” Geary said.
Through the years, it has grown to raise funds to support an array of programs, from self-defense classes to student recreation events to a scholarship in Jill’s name.
Geary began working at IU in 2000, and the JB5K was one of her first major events. She said it has given her a stronger sense of student development and a better understanding of how to help students reach their full potential.
“It’s my baby at this point,” Geary said.
The race now sees between 1,500 to 2,000 people each year.
“It’s not quite like Little 500 or the Dance Marathon, but it’s a pretty sizeable event,” Eric said.
Each year brings something different.
In 2006, a shadow loomed over the JB5K and reminded everyone what it was really about. By then, a suspect for Jill’s murder had been arrested, and court was in session for the trial that day.
Marilyn said she chose to go to the race instead of the trial, but some of her friends went to the latter instead.
“They felt like some of Bloomington needed to be there,” Marilyn said.
Even now, the JB5K continues to evolve. This year’s race featured new entertainment throughout the course, awards for the largest groups and a theme for each of the four color zones.
Participants were coated in deep pink at the Cream and Crimson zone, purple at Halloween, yellow at Emojis and blue at the Beach. When they finished, packets of color were distributed so racers could make each other even brighter.
Geary said the route is closer to 2.7 miles than the 3.1 of a real 5K, but the distance doesn’t really matter in the end. Everyone is just there for the color.
In fact, removing the competitive aspect was a big help, Geary said. Many JB5K participants are what Geary calls beginning recreators. About one fourth have never used student recreation facilities, and 40 percent have never signed up for a 5K before.
“You can run, walk, skip or crawl,” Geary said. “We don’t care how you get to the finish line. As long as you smile and have powder on you, it’s been a good day.”
Marilyn said she uses the 5K as a way to cope with everything that has happened, but she always finds it hard that the 5K is in October. She said Jill never liked when the weather started to cool down and feeling that chill in the air always makes her melancholy.
“Kind of like it’s in the pit of my stomach, just there,” Marilyn said.
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