Registration open for SMC’s Dirty Bird Challenge

Published 9:19 am Tuesday, February 11, 2014

SMC will host its annual Dirty Bird Challenge on April 12. Leader file photo

SMC will host its annual Dirty Bird Challenge on April 12. Leader file photo

Local runners looking to kick off their spring in a unique, if somewhat messy, fashion are encouraged to register for the 2014 Dirty Bird challenge, slated for April 12.

Now in its third year, the five-mile course, which is held on the Dowagiac campus of Southwestern Michigan College, promises to be muddier than ever, said Scott Topping, the school’s dean of arts and sciences and organizer of the annual event. This year, teams of three to five people will race to complete the course, which Topping said will have 25 different obstacles to overcome, such as hurdles, walls and submerged pipes.

“It’s very, very cold and very, very muddy, but it’s also fun,” Topping said. “You feel like you’ve accomplished something after you finish.”

One of the things organizers are emphasizing this year is teamwork, the dean said. Not only must participants cross the finish line together, but a number of obstacles will require them to work together to complete them.

The school created the boot camp style race in order to help raise money for student veterans, generating around $7,000 for the cause during the previous two events.

While the GI Bill helps pay for veterans’ tuition, many of them still feel a financial strain while attempting to balance school, work and raising a family, Topping said.

“It’s very, very hard to be a student, and this money helps them with books and other college expenses,” Topping said. “It helps keep them in school.”

True to its cause, the Dirty Bird is more than just a simple team competition. Organizers also pay tribute to veterans in wars past and present throughout the event, allowing participants to create banners to honor friends and family who have served in the armed forces.

The actual race is divided into two divisions: the eagle division, which is a timed race with prizes given to top places; and the hawk division, which is aimed for more casual racers.

“Our course is tough and challenging, but it’s not extreme,” Topping said. “We want people to have fun with it.”

Last year, 250 competitors ran in the Dirty Bird, up from 150 the previous year, Topping said. He said organizers want to see that number climb higher for this year’s race.

People interested in participating in this year’s event can register online at The cost is $90 for a three-person team, $120 for a four-person team and $150 for a five-person team. Any team that registers before March 23 will receive free t-shirts for each of its members.