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Hamstrung: Nevada County summer sports scene hit hard by COVID-19 pandemic

By the numbers

As of May 29

Number of COVID-19 cases: 41

Number tested: 2,857

Number in western county: 12

Number in eastern county: 29

Number of active cases: zero

Number of recoveries: 40

Number of deaths: 1

Learn more at http://www.theunion.com/coronavirus

When it comes to Nevada County’s summer sports scene, there’s usually no shortage of inspiring and community-focused events.

Whether it’s a triathlon in Cascade Shores that celebrates life and empowers women, elite cyclists from all over the country converging on Nevada City for a storied and revered bicycle race, a group of sailors going for gold at Scotts Flat Lake, a fundraising 5K that supports a worthy cause in the community or the top Masters athletes in the nation showcasing their track and field skills at Hooper Stadium, there’s usually a full calendar of summer sports events that bring much needed revenue and positive exposure to Nevada County.

But, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s shelter-in-place mandate meant to slow the spread, some of the county’s biggest sporting events have been forced to cancel, postpone and/or come up with new approaches with social distancing in mind.

One of the county’s longest running sports events, the Nevada City Classic Bicycle Race, had to be moved from the month of June for the first time in its 60-year history. The second oldest continually running bicycle race was moved from its original date of June 14, and will now run the weekend of Sept. 5-6.

“It became obvious we needed to cancel or postpone,” said Race Director Duane Strawser, noting an urgency to find a later date before other postponed races filled them. “We knew we had to move quick.”

The annual race is highly regarded among racers and regularly brings in droves of spectators to Nevada City’s downtown area.

One of the more popular and inspiring sporting events is the Barbara Schmidt-Millar Triathlon, a women-only event which annually draws hundreds of participants and raises more than $30,000. The funds generated by the event go to the Barbara Schmidt-Millar Foundation, which provides college scholarships for local high school students and financial aid to those seeking a mammogram but may not be able to afford it.

“Our community has really embraced the event and breast cancer touches a lot of people,” said triathlon Executive Director Vanessa Hale.

This year’s BSM Triathlon is still more than three months away (Sept. 20) but event organizers are already brainstorming possible alternatives in case it is unable to run in its true form.

“We’re just kind of waiting to see,” said Hale, adding that a decision to proceed, cancel or postpone would likely need to be made by July. “We also want to make sure we give people enough time to train and that they feel comfortable training with someone else. That’s always been our safety push: to never train alone or swim alone — always go out with a buddy.”

Nevada County’s biggest sports gathering, the Michael Bratton II Turkey Trot 5K/10K which draws around 2,000 participants and raises between $50,000 and $60,000 each year for community causes, is still six months away. Race organizer Mike Bratton said he is committed to running the event, even if it has to be done virtually or in some other fashion.

“Our beneficiaries really count on that money, maybe now more than ever,” Bratton said.

The Turkey Trot is a major fundraiser for the MEB2 Foundation, which is a nonprofit organization funded by local community and business support. The foundation’s primary focus is to support local youth activities, Anew Day, and suicide and depression awareness and prevention in Nevada County.


The Sierra Gold Masters Track and Field Festival, which in the past has drawn around 250 Masters athletes from all over the United States to Nevada Union’s Hooper Stadium, was scheduled for late June but has been canceled.

“It would have been our fifth year doing it and it’s just gotten bigger and bigger,” said Sierra Gold track and field team coach Clyde Lehman. “People are really invested in it.”

Lehman said athlete safety is Sierra Gold’s first priority, and with the advanced age of most the competitors, the risk was too great to have the event go on this year.

The loss of competition is disappointing for Sierra Gold, but so is the loss of funds raised by the event, which supports the team throughout the year.

“That meet is our life blood,” said Lehman. “It finances a lot of things for us, including our philanthropic stuff. We’re hamstrung with that.”

Sierra Gold also hosts a fundraiser run which benefits the Nevada Union track and field team, but that was canceled as well.

On the water, the Go for the Gold Regatta, which annually draws dozens of sailors from all over the western states for its weekend of sailboat races, was originally scheduled to set sail June 6, but has been also canceled.


The Turkey Trot is traditionally the last run on the Gold Country Grand Prix schedule, which has also suffered some pretty big hits this year. The annual running circuit has seen three races canceled and another postponed due to the pandemic.

The longest running 5K in the series, the Spring Run 5K/10K was set for April 25 but was called off. The Read, Write, Run 5K/10K and Sierra Gold 1M/5K were also canceled. The Joanie Bumpus Daffodil Run in Penn Valley has been moved from its original date in April to Nov. 1.

The Twin Cities Church Run for the Community 5K/10K was supposed to run this weekend, but race organizer and Gold County Grand Prix President John Fairchild restructured the race to be done virtually.

“It still gives you some feel of community, and some feel of doing something together even though we’re not actually together, and rallying around a common cause,” said Fairchild.

To register for the “Virtual Run for the Community 5K,” visit The Twin Cities Church website and click on the “events” tab.

“The response has been real positive. Within a few days we saw people registering and signing up,” said Fairchild, noting that funds raised by the run will go to COVID-19 relief in the community. “If this brings some warmth, some community and some cheer or positive feelings and encouragement to people — it’s a win.”

People can participate in the Virtual Run for the Community through June 14.

“Running for me has been a life saver,” said Fairchild. “… Just the chance to get out, breathe some fresh air, get some exercise, get the blood flowing, see others and wave — it’s been such a help and such a positive thing for me. And, the fact that I get to do a fair amount of that with my son has been an extra bonus.”

The next Gold Country Grand Prix race after the virtual 5K is the Kellerman Batwa 5K/10K Aug. 22.


In addition to the big events, the county also boasts a dedicated set of recreational leagues chalked full of passionate participants, all of which are chomping at the bit to start play up as the state progresses into Stage 3 of its reopening.

The Western Nevada County Slo-pitch Softball Association, Nevada County Adult Sports Association, Nevada County Fastpitch Softball League and Gold County Senior Softball Association have all had their respective seasons interrupted or postponed by the pandemic and are waiting for approval from county officials to start up play again.

Slo-pitch association Commissioner Steve Loomis said he’s hoping to have his league up and going sometime in mid- to late June, but that all depends on if he gets the OK from city and county officials.

Same goes for senior softball and the men’s fastpitch league. They all are just waiting for the green light from local health officials.

For Rich Ramirez, who runs the Nevada County Adult Sports Association, he just wants to conclude the volleyball and basketball seasons that were already in progress when the shelter-in-place mandate went into effect. Ramirez said he’s hoping to be back playing in early July, but there is still no date set in stone as the Grass Valley Veterans Building, where NCASA basketball and volleyball games are played, is still being used as a COVID-19 testing site.


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To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, email wford@theunion.com or call 530-477-4232.

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