Detroit resident Andrew Koper is no stranger to the many fears brought on by the recent coronavirus outbreak. From watching his close friends shutter their small businesses to worrying about the health of his father, a senior citizen with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), he’s felt the weight of this universally heavy time.
But recently, Koper, an avid runner and 8-year-user of the MapMyRun app, had an idea: What if he turned one of his routes into a giant heart as a gesture of love to his community? It would be a small act, but hopefully, a meaningful one.
“I’d seen a couple of news stories over the years about how a runner would draw something with their route, and the idea just came in my head a couple of weeks ago that it would be great to run a route that drew a heart,” he says. “A lot of people would probably love it.”
He decided to go for it.
Koper soon discovered, however, that intentionally running a large, heart-shaped route through a major metropolitan area is no easy task. He had to print out numerous maps of Detroit, each more detailed than the last — first, a basic high-level map of the city where he could draw the outline, then several zoomed-in versions to better plot the two curves and finally 10 pages of street-level maps to get every detail just right.
“It took me 2 hours to plot the route,” he says, which totaled 21 miles or more than 4 hours of running for Koper.
Though the end product was his main motivator, Koper found the run itself surprisingly therapeutic. With most people at-home quarantining, he had ample opportunity to engage with his community, even if only at a distance.
“It was a nice day out when I did my run, and there were elderly people sitting out on their porches watching the world go by, people grilling on their lawns, guys fixing their cars on the street and kids playing on the sidewalk,” he remembers. “We would all smile and say, ‘Hi’ to each other as I ran by. That was unexpectedly cool and powerful.”
Koper was also able to experience so many different parts of his city in one go — from the skyscrapers of downtown to the auto plants on the Near East Side to the delicious smell of curry on the residential streets of Hamtramck — leaving him newly appreciative and in awe of his diverse community.
Once home, he posted the route to his Facebook page, where it quickly picked up steam among friends and strangers alike.
“My phone started going crazy,” he says, “All of the next day, it got lots of likes, loves, shares and even some of those new, smiley-heart Facebook emojis. Eventually, local media started contacting me, and I did a number of interviews for Detroit newspapers, TV stations and radio stations.”
Koper says he’s happy he could bring a little light into a dark time, noting that he doesn’t know a single person right now who isn’t feeling afraid in some way. Small meaningful acts could be a way to help combat that fear.
“This is a unique time in human history — a really bad time. I hope the giant heart I drew on my run brings happiness into people’s lives to counter all of the bad news. I hope that it is a positive, uplifting action that brightens a lot of people’s days.”