A 1970s sports icon helped the Akron Marathon kick off its new “100 Runner Challenge” — a call to area athletes to help raise $100,000 toward the organization’s endowment campaign.


Bill Rodgers, whose Boston and New York City marathon victories in the 1970s made him a folk hero and helped launch a running boom, told a group of about 100 invited supporters at the Akron Civic Theatre that the sport needed their help.


“If you live in this area, this is your race,” said Rodgers, who has volunteered to hold strategy sessions with campaign participants prior to the Sept. 29 race as an incentive.


Last fall, marathon founder Steve Marks announced a $1 million “sustainability campaign” to create an endowment and ensure the event survives for generations.


The campaign has raised $370,000 to date. A successful 100 Runner Challenge would help that campaign get near the halfway point.


“You’re the ambassadors of the Akron Marathon,” Marks said. “You’re the ones we can count on to spread the word.”


The 100 Runner Challenge is an old-fashioned performance-based sponsorship program, although the Internet and technology does most of the work.


Participants register online at Charity Bets (charitybets.com) where runners sign up and set their goals for this year’s marathon, half-marathon or relay race. Runners can link their activity to social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) where friends, family and co-workers can follow links to make a pledge based on whether the runner meets, exceeds or falls short of a personal goal.


After the race, the runner announces his or her performance, and Charity Bets collects on the pledges.


Runners who get $1,000 in pledges prior to the race receive special considerations, including a VIP packet at this year’s Expo, an exclusive warm-up area with food and beverages on race day, their name announced at the starting line, a hat and special parking privileges.


Jim Chaney, who helped design the Akron course, said several runners have already signed up for the challenge, including last year’s women’s marathon winner Becki Michael, and Leo Kormanik, a member of last year’s relay championship team. Both Michael and Kormanik also ran the Akron race to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Trials.


Marks said the Akron Marathon is expecting 15,000 people to participate in this year’s event, from running the full marathon to joining the Kids Fun Run.


He also reminded the gathering of a study done by the University of Akron Department of Economics last year that determined the 2011 Akron Marathon added about $5.2 million to Akron’s economy. That was $1.2 million more than the previous year and created the equivalent of 46 jobs.


Marks said the endowment set up through the Akron Community Foundation will help the marathon continue to meet its goal of promoting fitness while growing the local economy and raising money for charity.


Added Rodgers, who helped Akron kick off its first marathon as its national spokesman in 2003: “Our sport, as strong as it is, is going to keep growing. There are no limits.”


Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or pschleis@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.