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Home / Community / L.A. Chinatown Firecracker Run now includes bike ride through Pasadena

L.A. Chinatown Firecracker Run now includes bike ride through Pasadena

by May Ruiz
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Avid bike riders will have the chance to participate in the 45th Annual L.A. Chinatown Firecracker Run (LACFR) to be held on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 18 and 19, 2023. One of the largest and oldest running races in the U.S., this year’s event incorporates a 40-mile bike ride through Pasadena which starts and ends at the Chinatown Plaza on Broadway. The bike ride route includes Linda Vista Avenue, Woodbury Road, New York Drive, Huntington Drive, Sierra Madre Boulevard, Mission Road, Altadena Drive, among other streets in the San Gabriel Valley. More information is available at firecracker10k.org/bike.

If you’re not a bike-riding enthusiast, though, there are still events you can join, like a 5K or 10K run/walk; even children and dogs can be part of the fun with the 1K kiddie and PAW’er dog run/walk. Registration is open on RaceJoy App and the fee is $30 to $65; participants can attend in person or virtually.

Each registered participant receives a commemorative 2023 Firecracker race bib, exclusive collectible finisher’s medal, limited edition commemorative t-shirt, goody bag, and much more. Additionally, participants and their guests will enjoy the Lunar New Year Celebration in the heart of historic Chinatown with an opening ceremony filled with lion dancers and the traditional lighting of 100,000 firecrackers. The Firecracker post-race expo includes vendors and booths as well as a new Chalk Art Festival and Boba Garden.

L.A. Chinatown Firecracker Run. | Photo courtesy of L.A. Chinatown Firecracker Run

An article in the Belmont High School Alumni News in 2022 chronicles LACFR’s humble beginnings in 1978 when Belmont High School (Home of the Sentinels) alumnus Edmund Soohoo (class of 1966) and Helen Young, founding member of the Echo Park Lotus Festival, put their heads together to figure out what else they could to do celebrate the Lunar New Year besides the Golden Dragon Parade already being held annually. She suggested a marathon or a bike race but he thought Chinatown’s streets are probably too hilly for a full marathon, but a 10K would probably work. So he ran with the idea; he started researching and asking who could help organize such an event.  

It’s not an exaggeration to say that it took a village to get the first event off the ground — as the Alumni News article recounts. Soohoo contacted a colleague, Fred Honda, who was head of municipal sports for Recreation and Parks; Honda introduced Soohoo to Bob Burke, director of the LAPD Police Olympics, a runner on the their long-distance relay team, and a founding member of the California Police Athletic Federation Board of Directors. Burke (1932-2015) then connected Soohoo to Andy Bakjian and Mel Schlossman (1925-1980). Bakjian (1914-1986) was the head track coach at Jefferson High School and led his team to the 1964 CIF California State Meet team title. He later became the Commissioner of Officials for the So Cal Association of the AAU in 1969, and he chaired the panel that selected the officials to work the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in L.A. Schlossman taught at Fairfax High School and coordinated cross country and track and field events for LAUSD. The four of them began organizing the first Firecracker 10K.

After a year of planning, Soohoo and his crew were ready to launch the race. To spread the word about the new run, volunteers made and distributed leaflets, putting them on car windshields and handing them out to participants at local runs and small races. Wilbur Woo (1916-2012), president of Chinatown’s Cathay Bank, gave Soohoo his personal check to cover the cost of the first t-shirt order.

L.A. Chinatown Firecracker Kiddie Run. | Photo courtesy of L.A. Chinatown Firecracker Run

For that initial 10K in 1979, just over 1,000 runners lined up at Chinatown’s Central Plaza. Over the years, additional events were added to encourage participants of all ages and interests. Today, Firecracker events include a 5K run/walk, a bike ride, a kiddie run, and a PAW’er dog walk. Participation has grown to nearly 10,000. The event is no longer just a local one; every year, Firecracker L.A.-sponsored events attract hundreds of newcomers to Chinatown.

LACFR volunteers continue to donate their time and energy to organize and stage events and programs that promote healthy lifestyles, fitness, cultural awareness; support education; and encourage community participation. Through registration fees, donations, and sponsorships, they have endowed over one million dollars to the community. They support local elementary schools by supplementing academic, music, and physical fitness programs.

This year’s sponsors include ABC Laboratories, Young Engineering & Manufacturing, Inc., Longo Toyota Lexus, Payden & Rygel, CXN Freight Systems, Inc., Phoenix-PDQ, Inc., RSM, ZWIFT, LANDSEA, Assam Beverages, Kaiser Permanente, Los Angeles Chinatown Corp., RMJ Property, AEC Consultants, Inc., VCA Engineers, Inc., The Wonderful Company, Angel City Brewery, Canton Food Co., LA Central City Optimist, City of Los Angeles, The Lab @Chinatown, GoGo Squeez, Asian Pacific Community Fund, Bicycle Angels, among others.          

Interviewed by email, LACFR’s secretary and founding board member Edmund Soohoo talks about the organization’s initial membership to its present day goals. While Belmont High School’s 2022 student population is made up of 87 percent Hispanic and LatinoAmericans, with Asian Americans making up the second largest group at 7 percent, he clarifies, “At the time of the organization’s founding the student body was more diverse — with whites, Japanese, African Americans, Chinese, Italians. The initial committee grew to include Latinos, whites and Japanese as well. We were friends of friends. All of us belonged to community organizations that included members from other races and cultures, as well as their other community advocates supporting each other.”

Asked if promoting a healthy lifestyle was the common thread that connected the founders or if they were all friends outside of this event, Soohoo responds. “Yes and no. Yes, many were friends outside of the event and/or became friends because of their work together. They all strived to coordinate an event our community could be proud of; to share our culture and traditions; and attract people to visit our community — Chinatown. It was always to coordinate the best events possible and share any proceeds with our communities.”

The Firecracker Run attracted attention from the beginning. Soohoo states, “The event drew a wide, diverse audience from day one. It was an opportunity for the greater running community to experience running in a historic community through the scenic and hilly route in Elysian Park.”

L.A. Chinatown Firecracker PAW’er Dog Walk. | Photo courtesy of L.A. Chinatown Firecracker Run

In time, what started as a 10K run expanded to what it is today. Soohoo explains, “The kiddie run came about organically. We grew as our runners started families and wanted to involve their children as well. The PAW’er walk came about much later, as many of our committee members had pets, dogs, and thought it would be a good addition to support healthy lifestyles.”

And soon, the event also attracted some corporate sponsors. “There was not a specific turning point, more the evolution and growth of our participant base — size matters. And social media is critical, as well as bringing on board a person dedicated to supporting corporate sponsorships,” Soohoo declares.

As for food attractions being part of the event, Soohoo states, “There have always been simple refreshments for the participants; however, we support local business so we want our participants and spectators to patronize our local restaurants and eateries.”

Having witnessed the evolution of the event, Soohoo recalls some of the memorable high points in its 45-year history, “Highlights include the VIPS who have joined us to start the races; working through some rainy weekends; 100s of volunteers working together; growing the event to nearly 10,000 participants; listening to the drumbeats of the lion dancers; popping of the firecrackers; the roar of the runners; and knowing you did it again — for the runners and our Chinatown community; donating money to the schools and community organizations; and knowing your efforts made a difference.”

Are all the founding members still actively involved and do their children continue the legacy? Soohoo discloses that until late 2021, there were two founding members still actively involved but there’s only one now. Their children aren’t currently involved but they had been in the past.  

Soohoo anticipates a bright future notwithstanding, “Each generation — including millennials and Gen Zs — finds their way to events that promote healthy lifestyles, in historic communities, that are authentic with real people from the community and fun for the entire family. Through more marketing, social media, and building upon our assets, we will expand this event. And allowing the next generation to take responsibility to grow Firecracker in their own creative ways!”  

It’s heartwarming how a simple idea that a handful of Sentinels conceived came to blossom into such a hugely successful event. Being fit and healthy has never been more fun!      

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