It started simply enough, as Todd Banister recalls it. A neighbor whose kids attended Ashford Park Elementary thought the school should sponsor a race as a fundraiser. In 2007, he sent out an email asking whether anybody in the neighborhood was willing to pitch in and help get a road race started.

“Adam and I jumped,” Banister said.

Banister, a real estate agent, and Adam Caskey, a lawyer, signed up to help that original parent, Bill Sluben, and the next spring, the Brookhaven Bolt was off and running.

For the Bolt’s second year, Banister recruited his roommate, web designer Darren Miller, to take over marketing the race.

After a couple of years, Sluben moved from Brookhaven to a new home in Cobb County. But the race committee was in place. “He passed it on to us,” Banister said. “It was our deal to carry on the legacy.”

This year, as the Bolt turns five, Banister, Caskey and Miller are pulling together the 2012 version of the 5-kilometer race that has become one of Brookhaven’s signature events and last year provided $30,000 for Ashford Park Elementary, a major source of discretionary money for the school.

Brookhaven Bolt

Date: May 19

Time: 8 a.m.

Place: Starts at Village Place Brookhaven on Dresden Drive

Cost: $25 through May 13, $30 through May 17 and $35 on race day

More information: brookhavenbolt.com

To the school, the race “is extremely important,” said Ashford Park Interim Principal Rosalind McIntyre. Funds from the race have purchased interactive electronic chalk boards for the school, she said. “The Brookhaven Bolt really supports the funding needs we have at the school,” she said.

Plus, students and parents take part in the race, she said, which is important as the school encourages students to stay healthy and fit.

The race has steadily grown. In 2008, 624 people took part in the race that began at the elementary school and ended at Ashford Park, Banister said. The number gradually increased to 800 by 2010.

Then, last year, when the committee moved the start and finish of the race to Village Place on Dresden Drive, the number of runners jumped to 1,200. The move to Dresden raised the visibility of the race, but it also made it easier for volunteers to stage. Having the start and finish lines in different locations meant they had to move P.A. equipment while the race was under way. “Every year, we’d have to transfer all the DJ equipment and every year, it didn’t work when we got there,” Caskey said.

For this year’s race, theyhope to draw 1,500 runners. Miller thinks changes – such as running a distance that is certified by an outside group – will attract more serious runners. “I expect a couple of ringers out there this year,” he said.

Their work on the race starts in December, they said. Work is slow in the beginning, but picks up as race day nears.

“For three months, it’s a second full-time job,” Miller said as he and the others met at the Library Coffee Co. in Brookhaven recently.

“A second unpaid full-time job,” Banister chimed in.

What’s kept them coming back year after year?

“We love the neighborhood,” Banister said. “We love the area. We love that euphoric feeling race day morning.”

“Brookhaven is our spot,” Miller said. “I love this place. It makes a better community if we’ve got a sweet little school in the middle.”

One thing they don’t have is children at Ashford Park Elementary. Caskey’s son is 3. Banister and Miller don’t have children.

“When we started in 2007, we really didn’t think this thing would turn into anything,” Banister said. “When I saw it [grow], I thought, ‘Well, we can’t just let this thing die.’”

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.