Audio Postcard: Storming the Bastille

Jul 19, 2016

More than five thousand participants stormed the Bastille last Thursday in the 35th annual 5K run and walk. The ever-popular race closes Milwaukee’s downtown streets and gives participants the unique experience of not only taking over the city, but racing at night.

Father and son Jeffery and Jeremy Mack stormed the Bastille together. And while it was Jeremy’s first time participating, Jeffery said he’s been running the race since the very first year it began. For Jeremy, the experience of running with his father for the Bastille Day celebration was a positive one.

“I thought it was pretty great, especially for his health and everything, I though that was amazing. I actually was not expecting that! It was definitely great, especially since it was my first time," he said.

As a 35 year Storm the Bastille veteran, Jeffery Mack said it’s the night running in downtown that keeps the tradition strong.  “The lights, the camaraderie, the people, I think it's awesome. That’s the reason why I come back every year,” he said. His son Jeremy certainly agreed that the night run is a great way to experience the city, but believed it’s the people who participate that add a big sense of community.

BMO Harris Bank's huge squad of volunteers helped to make the race happen. From the course cheerleaders to water stations, employees of the race sponsor came out in force to be a part of the event. 

Julie Westbrook, who was managing the water station near Cathedral Square Park, said that she has been volunteering at the event for 18 years. “It’s a really fun time, it brings the community together and it's tradition...it's fun to be down here with your co-workers doing something, giving back to the community," she said.

Thousands line up at the start/finish line ready to Storm the Bastille in downtown Milwaukee.
Credit Courtesy of the Eastown Association

The race also brings novice and advanced runners alike together. Kara Klaves has been training for what was supposed to be her first 5K later in the fall for about four weeks, but decided on the day of to participate in Storm the Bastille. "It was pretty fun! I was not sure I could actually run the whole thing, as I've never run a 5K before, but we signed up today and ran," she said.

Sarah Gauthier, who also stormed the Bastille for the first time along with Klaves, found herself focused more on her surroundings than her pace. “I caught myself grabbing my phone and taking pictures of all the runners and the sun setting over downtown Milwaukee…it's a different was to see Milwaukee at night,” she said.

However, what was a fun and joyful event turned into something different for many, including Kara and Sarah who heard the news of the attack in Nice, France after the race.

“It actually popped up on my phone as I was finishing," Klaves said. "I'm very sad about that happening, especially when everybody over there is celebrating. It's just going to be a sad day in France."

Gauthier was in fact just in Nice a couple of weeks before the race visiting close friends. "It's not a great day to be celebrating something that's so great and historical given the circumstances that they're dealing with today," she said.

Baron Carl de la Chapelle
Credit Courtesy of the Eastown Association

The attack stunned many in Milwaukee who were celebrating the French holiday, including French Baron Carl de la Chapelle. He heard the tragic news before the race, and as a Frenchman in Milwaukee celebrating Bastille Days with family and friends, he shared his thoughts: “I never saw the videos and all that, but they’ve told me today about what happened here for the (Pairs) attacks in November, and that speaks plenty about how close Milwaukee and probably the United States is to France...This is amazing and I know that after these events we in France watched a lot of the reaction of the world, and really that was something that helped us to feel better and not to feel alone when these kind of things hit us."

He continued, “I don’t want them to be too sad about all this, because the best answer, and that's what we did in Paris and that's what we do in France right now is keep living normally, keep celebrating. When there were the attacks in Paris we kept going outside, we kept going to the cafe and we kept on enjoying the terrace and all of this because it's really part of what we are. So I would like people to enjoy (Bastille Days) tonight."

“We all find ourselves in liberty, equality, and fraternity. It’s very important to all of us, and I really like these kind of events here where we find these values in the U.S. and it's a good reminder, tonight especially, that friends in the U.S. are actually the oldest allies that you can think of  in the free world. I think that tonight's race is going to mean a lot," he said.

With thousands of people ranging from young to old, families to individuals, and runners and walkers of all fitness levels, storming the Bastille meant something different to every person crossing the finish line. For Jeffery Mack, the added motivation to keep running was to finish not just for his health, but for his son. “I am almost 57. I had to finish. It didn't matter what time I came in, I just needed to finish for my son," he said.