Kevin Hart and about 1,000 fans get together for a little weekend run.
“Don’t you lie to me. Is this hilly out here today?”
Kevin Hart was standing at Gas Works Park on Saturday before his “Run with Hart” 5K, and for once, he wasn’t joking. He was looking at the hills all around him. And he was worried.
“It’s a little …” a rep for the run’s sponsor, Nike, started to tell him.
“How many hills I got?” Hart wanted to know, then turned to the thousands of Facebook fans who were watching him live, via FaceTime.
“See, what they do is, they don’t want to tell me whether there are hills or not,” Hart said to the camera, “because they don’t never want me to mentally psyche myself out.
“I got little legs,” the 5-foot-4 comedian continued. “I’m an asthmatic, OK, people? When I run a hill, I feel like I’m going to need an inhaler.”
There was no need for the “Get Hard” star to worry. Once he got out of the park, it was a little up and down along the Burke-Gilman Trail. (Hart said — joked? — that he listens to Justin Bieber while he’s running.)
But when 1,785 fans are right behind you, why worry?
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The run was free, save for participants having to register their names and emails to open a Nike+ account membership (the run generated 881 new members). In return, they got a “Run with Hart” T-shirt, a wristband and a high-five from the comedian, who waited at the finish line, shaking hands and giving high-fives until the very last runner crossed.
Many were urged along the route by Nike pacers and running coaches.
Hart arrived at Gas Works in one of three giant SUVs and was surrounded by an entourage of almost a dozen people, including two former Seahawks defensive backs, Marcus Trufant and Jordan Babineaux.
In an interview before the run (more like a monologue, really), Hart said he started the runs to connect more personally with his 70 million fans on social media.
“You’re looking at a Kevin Hart movement,” he said, “Something that I started doing just to see the reach that I have with my fan base, just to see how many people I can get out and simply join me for a run.”
The runs are his way of staying authentic, he said.
“I think what keeps me grounded, what keeps me real, is people being able to see me, touch me, ‘Oh, my God, he’s different,’ ” Hart said. “When I feel like I lose those connections, then I feel like I lose my level of success. So I don’t want to lose this connection. I want to constantly do things to bring me closer to the people that support me. And this is one of those things.”
Leslie Walker, 52, came to Gas Works from North Seattle. She runs on Saturdays and goes on long walks during the week, but she didn’t have a 5K on her calendar anytime soon.
“If it wasn’t for Kevin Hart, I wouldn’t come out here,” Walker said. “I am pretty much the oldest one here. But I like supporting anything that helps people get out exercising and moving.
“And I’ve been watching Kevin do this across the country.”
Barrett Caldwell, 44, has lost 42 pounds in the last five months and was planning to run her first 5K next June.
“Kevin announced this and I said, ‘Oh, wow, I can do this!’ ” she said. “And here I am, nervous and ready.”
She was with her cousin, Dionne Bonner, also 44, who has lost 35 pounds.
“We’re gonna help each other,” Bonner said. “This is just perfect. We’re gonna do awesome. We’re gonna make it.”
Those are just the kind of people Hart is trying to attract to his runs, which he plans to continue when his tour heads to Europe.
So who inspires him?
“It’s my kids,” he said. “I want to be great because I have two kids that look at their father and say, ‘Oh, my God, that’s my dad.’ So I feel like the more I do, the more goals that I accomplish, the more their point of view who their father is and what he’s done with his time on this earth goes through the roof.”
He is especially motivated by people who come out to run despite great struggles. Cancer survivors, people who are HIV-positive. Paraplegics who have done the run in wheelchairs. Just the day before in Portland, he said, a woman with a pacemaker told Hart she didn’t run but wanted to get stronger, and he motivated her.
“That’s the biggest reward you can get, because I’m really affecting people,” Hart said.
At the end of the run, he gathered the crowd around him to pose for a selfie, then picked up a megaphone.
“We start together, we finish together,” he said. “If it was the first time, don’t let it be your last.
“Now go home!”