The Sweat4Syria 5K takes off this Saturday, May 19, in Louisville’s Iroquois Park. The full amount of the $20 registration will go toward the goal of raising $10,000 for Syrian refugees resettled in Louisville.
The event was founded by four friends: Zeeshan Bhatti, Hamza Foy, Kirk Kimsey, and Adam Khayat.
“Syria has been on the forefront of my mind for quite a while,” Zeeshan says. “It viscerally spoke to me.” He had been thinking about what he could do locally and how he could make an impact on what seemed like a distant refugee crisis.
After reading a story on KRM’s website about a Syrian refugee named Ramez, Zeeshan connected with the family to donate meat to them for the Muslim religious holiday Eid al-Fitr.
“A friendship formed,” he says.
The name ‘Sweat4Syria’ came to Zeeshan all of the sudden, and he reached out to Hamza, who reached out to Kirk and Adam. The group began meeting regularly to discuss how they could make an impact. They agreed to start local, focusing on how to benefit refugees already resettled in Louisville. They chose to raise money for families identified by KRM who need additional financial support or emergency assistance.
“They need to know that this is their home, their community, and that we are here for them,” says Kirk. “It’s not just Syrians—it’s all refugees. Everyone who comes to Louisville—especially if they’re displaced—deserves to have that feeling of community, fellowship, and security. I hope that’s what we can bring to them.”
They chose to organize a race mainly because it seemed most feasible—and because it will be fun.
“We don’t have access to money or infrastructure,” Zeeshan says. “I was looking at the most pragmatic way to get this done.”
The team booked the park, built a website and promotional materials, canvassed at various local events, connected with the Community Foundation of Louisville to facilitate the donations, invited runners clubs, set up a partnership with Swags Sport Shoes stores, and hosted a press conference.
Although they are very involved in the community in different ways, they’ve never before pulled together an event like this. Zeeshan works in finance at Merrill-Lynch and reads whenever he’s not studying for the CFA. Hamza works as a MetroSafe 911 dispatcher and is an active organizer in Louisville’s Muslim community. Kirk returned to school and began offering his creative and design skills to local organizations, such as Interfaith Paths to Peace.
“What’s been interesting is the fact that all of us—we’ve never done something like this before,” says Hamza. “What kills ideas the most is the fact that when people see the first obstacle, that kills their willpower.” He considers them all gutsy enough to have pushed through. They’re all grateful that throughout the learning process, they’ve remained supportive and collaborative without having any arguments.
“Any kid, teenager, and adult can do this if we can,” Zeeshan says. “We are so ‘Average Joe!’”
“If you have the passion,” Kirk says, “it can happen.”
Already, they’ve inspired others to get involved. Sarah Smith, a teacher at Farnsley Middle School, saw their event promotion online and began to involve her students. They were learning about the Syrian refugee crisis, and the students organized a fundraiser at school to benefit Sweat4Syria. One student has a parent who owned the Derby City Pizza Company in Pleasure Ridge Park, which donated proceeds from one day to the Sweat4Syria efforts.
As part of their outreach, the team attended an international bazaar at the Muslim Community Center of Louisville. Hamza spoke with a few of the Syrian refugees in attendance about Sweat4Syria; the team has been inviting any refugees to participate for free. Hamza sensed gratefulness yet also bewilderment.
“Part of it is, they’re just blown away that there are people out there doing events like these for them,” Hamza says. “As is the case for a lot of other refugees, when they come here, they come from war-torn countries . . . So events like these and community support is a total 180.”
Zeeshan shared the news about the event with Ramez and his family. They want the Syrian community to feel loved, he says.
Directly after the race, runners will be able to visit nonprofit tables to learn about a variety of community organizations. The team wants participants to feel inspired to volunteer somewhere.
“I want people to realize if you actually work together with a sincere intention to actually benefit others, you can pull off amazing things,” Hamza says.
Zeeshan and the team have ambitions to plan other 5K races and other kinds of fundraisers, with the intention of benefiting different causes. They want to keep their focus on local issues within the Louisville community.
“I want Sweat4Syria to be a catalyst,” Zeeshan says. They aim to inspire others to also take collective action. They hope attendees leave Sweat4Syria and create more fundraisers or other ways to bring people together for the benefit of others.
Kirk adds, “Positivity, outreach, community—that has a ripple effect. It doesn’t just stay at that one place in time. People carry that with them, and they give it to people around them.”
Registration closes on Thursday, May 17th, at midnight. To participate, register at Sweat4Syria.com.
Thank you to the organizers of Sweat4Syria for leading this effort. The event comes at a time when U.S. refugee resettlement, in particular Syrian resettlement, has declined dramatically.
In the photo above from left to right: Kirk Kimsey, Hamza Foy, and Zeeshan Bhatti.