Jun. 22—The 2021 Turtle Crawl on Jekyll Island broke its fundraising record despite the challenges that come with organizing any kind of large-scale event during a pandemic.
The annual race, held virtually May 1, raised a record-setting $24,858 this year. The Jekyll Island Foundation raises the money on behalf of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on the island.
"Turtle Crawl's been a signature event on Jekyll Island since 2003," said Nancy Kring-Rowan, events operations manager for Jekyll Island Authority. "But you know planning an event in a pandemic is a challenge, so we felt that it was prudent that we went virtual for the safety of our participants."
Participants were encouraged to complete the run on their favorite parts of Jekyll Island, and organizers provided alternative routes around the island.
"It was really great to see all of the families out there participating — a little group here, a little group there — with their shirts on, running, walking, still enjoying coming to Jekyll and participating in the Turtle Crawl," Kring- Rowan said
More than 750 people took part in this year's race. They represented 33 states as well as places as far as the Cook Islands.
The race also had a greater diversity among the ages of runners, including 89 people under the age of 18 and 100 runners over 65.
The virtual format of this year's event made the race more accessible and reduced the overhead costs, which allowed organizers to make a larger donation to the foundation.
Many were complimentary of the virtual race option, Kring-Rowan said.
"It's more casual," she said. "They can get up when they want to, they can go out where they want to, where they are, in a safe environment for themselves where they feel comfortable."
Registered runners were able to make separate donations through the event website.
"We have a large base of annual participants to Turtle Crawl, and they knew that last year's was canceled due to the pandemic," Kring-Rowan said. "Since the race is a fundraiser for the Sea Turtle Center, our virtual participants this year just really wanted to lace up their shoes and open their hearts and their wallets to help this center, to help their mission of sea turtle rehabilitation, research and education."
Planning is already underway for the next Turtle Crawl, which will take place in-person on April 30, 2022. The event will include a 10k, 5k and fun run, all of which will begin in the Beach Village on Jekyll. A virtual run option will be offered again next year as well.
"It will be the official kick off for the 2022 nesting season on Jekyll Island, and even though we're going to be in person we're still bringing back the 'ghost crawler' category, which will allow people to run virtually and still support the Georgia Sea Turtle Center," Kring-Rowan said
The Turtle Crawl's success this year, though, was a bright point for all involved in the midst of a difficult year.
"It's just amazing to see the love and the support for the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, even during this challenging time," Kring-Rowan said. "I'm really proud of the evolution of Turtle Crawl this year and its ability to still be a signature event in our community. People sought it out, and people wanted to participate."