Austin Gorilla Run returns for its fourth year

Danielle Lopez

More than 700 people walked, ran or biked through the streets of Austin on Saturday while dressed in gorilla costumes. The gorilla-suited runners, many of whom decked their costumes out with creative accessories, such as ballerina skirts, capes and angel wings, competed in the Austin Gorilla Run, a 5K sponsored by the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund, which raises money for a recovering population of mountain gorillas in Africa. Participants completed the 5K Saturday morning at the Mueller Browning Hangar and joined the organization and its many local Austin sponsors for an after-party.

Tammy Pirtle, the second-place winner for most creative costume, ran in the race for the first time.

“I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of this before,” Pirtle said. “I just came out to support the cause. I’m from Austin, and this is just so who we are.” 

The Austin Gorilla Run’s growing popularity has brought in all kinds of people to the event. Participating for his second time was 73-year-old Jerry Christiansen from Dripping Springs, who came in first place on his bike.

Clad in distinctively pink gorilla suits, given only to those who raised $300 or more, were runners Anna Woodroe and Elizabeth Wood, who visited from Canada.

“We thought, if we’re going to go to Austin, we better do something,” Woodroe said.

Wood said they wanted to make the most of their trip to Austin.

“So, she Googled ‘weird things to do in Austin, Texas,’ and it came up with the gorilla race,” Wood said.

The Gorilla Runs originated in Denver, Colo., in 2004, but their success allowed for expansion to other cities, such as Austin, Cincinnati and Edmonton, Canada, in 2009.

“We’d met a group of wonderful individuals over here in Austin and I said, ‘Well, our event is weird enough as it is — might as well go down [to Austin] and make it even weirder,’” said Frank Keesling, vice president of the organization and son of Ruth Keesling, its founder.

Debbie Wright, development director at the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund, said the fund has pledged more than $350,000 in support of the Ruth Keesling Wildlife Health and Research Center at Makerere University in Uganda, Africa. The center has educated more than 38 wildlife veterinarians who have helped raise the gorilla population of 248 in 1985 to an estimated 880 today. 

“After today, we’ll have raised $35,000 to $40,000,” Keesling said. “And as long as people want to run in gorilla suits, we’ll keep coming back.”