We Are Loma 5k

Photo Courtesy of Sofia Lo Piano.

By: Sofia Lo Piano

Editor’s Note: This article was edited after publication to fix a sentence fragment.

A green “We Are Loma 5k” sign stood below the Alumni Office/Alumni House entrance sign, both with white arrows directing runners, joggers and walkers along the path past the Bresee Alumni House. 

Student volunteers cheered for the participants, smiling, clapping, high-fiving and spreading words of encouragement throughout the entirety of the course. 

The We Are Loma 5k, a fourth annual Point Loma Nazarene University Homecoming event, kicked off at 8 a.m. on Feb. 17, with check-in beginning at 7 a.m.

Hosted by the student alumni ambassadors with support from the alumni board, The Loma 5k is a community fundraising event with the goal of collecting donations for the Loma Fund. This money is used for student scholarships and the transformational work of the university. With 150 donors, $5,047 was raised this year. Last year had 192 donors and brought in $6,649.

It was a two-lap course, beginning with a loop around the track and exiting through the athletic complex parking lot before trekking up the hill to Bond, where it curved around to head north on Caf Lane. It passed the cross, Mieras Hall, and Draper Hall to weave around the alumni house before turning and heading toward Brown Chapel, tracing Peppertree Lane until descending the hill to make a right turn back onto the track.

There were more than 200 participants, with about 100 students who pre-registered and over 60 alumni pre-registering, along with as many as 100 people stopping by that morning. 

This event was the brainchild of Kendall Lucas (‘10), who worked in alumni relations for 10 years, serving as the director of alumni relations from Feb. 2018 to Sept. 2022, according to her LinkedIn page

The first race was held in 2020.

Matt Robertson (‘92), the outgoing president of the alumni board, said that the COVID-19 pandemic “gave us an opportunity to reboot how Homecoming is done.”

The 2020 race was entirely virtual, and it had participants from all over the world as well as alumni running together in their hometowns, which is what Robertson and Garrett Kiesz (‘09) did in Sacramento around Lake Natoma.

Lucas envisioned a different look to Homecoming; events such as the 5k and Loma Live are new this year. These additions were ways to refresh and reimagine what Homecoming could look like, all in the effort of getting more students and alumni involved, said Robertson.

Hanna Vanca (‘20), the alumni engagement manager of the Office of Alumni Relations, said that the portion of the money used for university development is for “the unglamorous parts that keep the campus running. Some years that looks like our student clubs, some years that looks like changing all the lightbulbs. It’s all those things that at the end of the day we’re like ‘we need just a little bit more to stretch us just a little bit farther.’” 

The student alumni ambassadors act as the liaison between students and alumni, and they work directly with alumni through a mentorship program and local alumni visits, said second-year writing major and student alumni ambassador Naomi Norton. 

The alumni association is made up of a board of 15 members and 20 student ambassadors. The board’s role is to support the alumni association in putting on events such as the Loma 5k and Homecoming, helping to facilitate and set up. They also reach out to alumni in different regions, planning and hosting area events.

Even more than this, their purpose is to “build a bridge between the two worlds” of alumni and students, said Erin McCann (‘10), because “alumni and students are not that dissimilar.” 

Robertson agrees. He said that another layer to the alumni association’s purpose is to get students thinking of themselves as future alumni from the first moment they step on campus. 

“By incorporating students in all the events, we want them to begin realizing that one day they’re going to graduate and they’re going to become an alum, and through that, then they can continue to support the school financially, showing up and being at events and hoping to spread the word about Point Loma,” said Robertson. “We want to create that unity and partnership between students and the alumni association from the very beginning.”

The 5k has been held in-person and on-campus since 2021. In this time it has become more of a student-centered event. Now, there aren’t as many virtual and worldwide participants but instead more local community members, such as a local track and field team and the PLNU soccer team, said Vanca.

Each year has seen growth in participation among students, with the Associated Student Body, athletics and the cheer team becoming involved. There are also local sponsorships. Last year OB Beans donated coffee, and this year Jensen’s donated Luna bars.

The recent addition of the “battle of the dorms” has increased student involvement, with the 5k being an opportunity to earn points. The challenges include the dorm with the highest participation, the most spirited dorm and the fastest time for an in-person participant. This competition is relatively new to students despite being a memorable experience that many alumni had during their time at PLNU. Vanca said it is a way for alumni to tap into the nostalgia of their time here.

Students can participate in the 5k for free while alumni pay to participate.

“I think that’s kind of the beauty of it, right? The alums pay to be in an event that contributes back into student development and the students get to live into and participate. That’s the full circle to me,” said Vanca.

Kiesz, a third-year board member, former Sacramento area alumni representative and student alumni ambassador from 2006-2009, said that it is encouraging to see continual engagement over the years, especially from recent alumni.

“That’s great because they are going to be the folks that are going to continue to come back five, 10, 15, 20 years down the line, which is going to help grow our community here at Point Loma,” said Kiesz.

Kiesz’ advice for students and alumni alike is to “just get involved no matter what your experience was like here.”

“We all have different experiences here, but there’s always something very special and important to us,” said Kiesz. “This campus means something very special and important to us, this community means something special to us. And just always plug back in. It’s never too late to get involved.”  

Just as student experiences vary, so does post-grad involvement. Vanca’s focus “is getting people to be engaged in the ways they want to be engaged.”

“Not being a student that long ago, I think I have a sensitivity to the fact that there are highs and lows of being a Point Loma student. But we have all that one thing at Point Loma that’s gotten us plugged in and really made us feel seen and connected,” she said.

For alumni, this could be anything from talking in a former classroom, mentoring a current student, or helping out at events like the 5k.

“The goal shouldn’t be ‘oh, you need to look this one way.’ Point Loma is so fundamental in your development.” Vanca feels that to return to such a fundamental place honors the experiences here.

“As an alum, you’re always welcome at this place, but know that now that you’re not a student, you get to engage the way you want to.”

Norton agreed that engagement doesn’t have to look a certain way and that being involved as an alumni “gives you a lot of opportunity to come back and impact the student body.” 

In offering advice to current students, she said to think about the impact you could have as an alumni after you graduate and move forward. 

“Think, how can I give back to a place that gave me so much?” 

McCann shares this sentiment. 

“That was my feeling – I don’t want to just have graduated and separate and then be done. I just look back and I’m like, in terms of spiritual formation, I am the person I am because of this school. I’m forever grateful.”

McCann decided to join the alumni association 10 years after graduating while she was living in Denver, because she wanted to find more alumni and recent grads to connect with. She is now the secretary of the alumni board.

“It’s such a close-knit community. There are a lot of friends of mine who have graduated and are not connected, and I feel that’s a huge disservice to them and the community. I think the Point Loma community is unlike a lot of other places.”

She encourages people to sign up and join for next year, as she hopes to see more families and students participating in this community. She also recognizes that within this community, not everyone agrees, but ultimately it’s the bigger picture that matters.

“I think you have to make a choice that this is a community that really does seek to love and support our students and the families, and so, yeah, we’re not perfect, but I’m like, don’t let seeds of bitterness grow if something didn’t go the way that you wanted it to or didn’t look the way you wanted. We’re still people and we’re still trying to fix things that we’ve done in the past.”

Families are not perfect, but they agree on one thing: love. And love is what keeps a community thriving, continuing to show up for each other. 

Love for the community is also what keeps the Commuter Student Services office growing and improving. Even within a community as close-knit as Point Loma, there are still those who may not feel a part of it. Third year business student and Commuter Student Services employee Gretta Ochoa, said that she strives to make sure other commuter students do not struggle building community as much as she did in her first semester at Point Loma. 

The Commuter Student Services snack and information booth at the 5k was a way to spread the word about the resources and events offered by this organization. 

She said her goal is to make the Point Loma commuter space “a home away from home.” It is to build the community that commuters don’t have by living on campus, to let them know that “they have a place here even if it doesn’t feel like it.” 

Because “even if you’ve graduated, this is your home. You’re still a part of Point Loma regardless of where you live.”

A group of 2003 nursing graduates — Rachel Barnes, Jamie Santiago, Laura Costanza and Mary Maxson — would agree. They traveled from out of town to reunite for Homecoming weekend, renting a house together and participating in the 5k. Coming from places such as Idaho, Northern and Southern California and Arizona, they still feel bonded by their experiences at PLNU, over 20 years later. 

Just like the ups and downs of the course, college has its hills and valleys. But runners and walkers, like students and alumni, can always count on finding their way back home, where it all began, back to the track. 

Third-year kinesiology student and 5k participant Keegan Debever said this was his first year participating with his friends.

As for how he and his friends felt about the event, “We’ll see you next year.”