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Erich Gross goes virtual to raise funds for Special Olympics
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Erich Gross goes virtual to raise funds for Special Olympics

Veteran runner-for-a-cause Erich Gross is running three Boston Athletic Association-sponsored races in the coming weeks to raise funds for area Special Olympics.

He just won’t be running them in Boston.

“I’ll run a virtual 5K in October, a virtual 10K in November and a virtual half marathon in December,” on behalf of Special Olympics, Gross, who is 75 and lives in Santa Maria, said.

“I’m running them all on the Hancock College track. I don’t know on exactly which dates yet. Organizers will send an electronic tape (for the events) to me.”

Gross said he has been running as a fund raiser for Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo Special Olympics for years.

“I was planning to run in the Boston Marathon this year to raise funds for Special Olympics,” said Gross, who is a native of Germany.

“Sadly, that race, like so many, was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Still, “We had started fund raising before the Boston Marathon, and we’re at $76,000,” said Gross. “We hope to get over $100,000.”

Gross said the fees he pays to participate in the three races will go toward Boston Special Olympics.

“The money that is raised on my GoFundMe page for those races will go toward Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo Special Olympics.”

At each of the three events he runs at Hancock, “There will be strict social distancing,” said Gross. “People who come will be a space apart.”

Gross said Rudy Gutierrez, the Northern Santa Barbara County Special Olympics Operations Coordinator, helped him set up the GoFundMe page.

“The funds raised on that page go toward area Special Olympics,” said Gross.

“You know, 90 percent of the funds come from people like you and me,” said the 75-year-old grandfather. “They give me a check. Only 10 percent of the donations have been from the internet”

Once his daughter got wind of the upcoming virtual distance races the BAA was sponsoring, “She signed me up right away,” Gross said with a chuckle.

“This virtual running thing is entirely new to me.”

Gross is happy he will be running in events at all this year on behalf of Special Olympics. “All the events I was going to run in this year had been cancelled,” until the three BAA-sponsored virtual events came about, he said.

He said a particularly memorable race for him was a half marathon in his native Munich last year.

“It was to benefit wheelchair racers so they could race,” he said.

“Five nations participated in that one.”

The Santa Maria resident has earned multiple medals for his running. The last one he has earned so far was at the Philadelphia Marathon in November of 2019.

“That was my last big race,” said Gross. “I got a medal that has a replica of the Liberty Bell.”

He chuckled. “That medal is the heaviest medal I have.”

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Sports Reporter

Kenny Cress, sportswriter for the Santa Maria Times since September of 2000. BA in political science from Cal Poly Pomona. BA in journalism from Cal State Northridge.

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