ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Instead of a starter’s pistol, runners across the city can kick their Thanksgiving morning off to the sound of mariachis playing. The annual Gratitude Run is put on by the Native Health Initiative to provide an alternative way of spending the holiday.

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In addition to being a family medicine physician, Anthony Fleg is co-partnership director for Native Health Initiative. He created the run in 2016 to provide an alternative, free Thanksgiving Day event that would benefit the community. “Most of us would just like to celebrate the holiday with our loved ones, doing something healthy and would much rather bring clothing and food donations for families in need than pay $40 a person for a race. It’s more of a celebration of community and a party that’s disguised with a walk, run and bike element to it,” Fleg said.

He said 400 people showed up to participate in the event, further proving to Fleg that this was something the community wanted to do. It’s to the organization that it didn’t create barriers that hindered people from participating in the event, which is why the event is free. In place of a registration fee, they ask participants to bring clothing, monetary, hygiene or food donations to be donated to local families in need.

“I think the more that we can get our families moving together, the more that other things start to change. That could be dealing with stress in the family, that could be trying to eat healthier. But I think it’s a really different approach if I as a parent sit in the car on my phone, and my kid’s doing an activity, versus really getting families moving together,” Fleg said.

Beyond the Thanksgiving Day event, Native Health Initiative has an event called Running Medicine that takes the same principles as the Gratitude Run but brings it in a year-round approach. “It’s a very different feel when you get that intergenerational play, and really the kids become the teachers because they teach adults how to play again,” Fleg said.

Lailoni Kie-Leighton and her family have participated in four of the Gratitude Run events throughout the years, and have taken part in the Running Medicine program. She appreciates the alternative approach to medicine and health and says she especially enjoys the support from the group as a whole.

“We’ve established such a great connection with the group. They’ve become like our family. Sometimes at work, you don’t get that ‘Great job, I hope you had a good day today’ but when you come out to one of our celebrations, you do get that positive impact,” Kie-Leighton said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing people there, and all the different ages, and being able to give back to the community, and also being able to enjoy everyone’s positive vibes.”

The 6th annual Gratitude Run begins at 9 a.m. at North Domingo Baca Park. The free event will kick off with a land acknowledgment and participants can walk, run or bike. For more information, visit