Corporate sponsors of the Sept. 7 “Warrior Dash” competition in North Plains were there for all the usual reasons: to promote beer and energy drinks and even to get runners to consider enlisting in the National NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Approximately 9,500 participants in Saturdays Warrior Dash leap over flaming logs together as they approach the end of the 3.1-mile obstacle course.

One sponsor took a different approach. USAgain, a Chicago-based recycling company that deals mostly with clothing, appears to have struck a chord with the thousands of participants who turned out for the annual Warrior Dash at Horning’s Hideout, a resort on Northwest Brunswick Canyon Road just outside North Plains.

The Warrior Dash is a 5K (3.1 miles) obstacle course, and it drew approximately 9,500 runners to North Plains this year. Waves of participants left the starting gate every half hour from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. They ran up and down trails, jumped over burning logs, climbed walls and rope obstacles and splashed through muddy pools.

And after all that, with their running shoes no longer recognizable, most runners embraced the tradition of tossing them into a pile for NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Competitors strain as they use ropes to descend down a steep and muddy wall, one of a dozen obstacles along the Warrior Dash course at Hornings Hideaway near North Plains.

“Warrior Dash participants are encouraged to bring surplus shoes from home to recycle at the USAgain tent near the finish line, as well as their muddy post-race shoes,” said Steve Johnson, a USAgain community recycling specialist who was at the race site all day. “The shoes are dried, cleaned and graded, and then either resold or chopped up as asphalt or playground material. The goal is to give shoes a second life and divert harmful waste from landfills.”

The company has a business motive as well.

“Warrior Dash has a lot of sponsors — Monster Energy Drinks, Great Clips, Miller Brewing, etc.,” explained USAgain spokesman Sean Graw. “We’re just one of their sponsors. As a for-profit clothing recycling company, partnering with Warrior Dash allows us to reuse and recycle shoes and keep them out of landfills.”

Competitors came from all around the Northwest for this year’s Warrior Dash. Many said they were there not only because the event was challenging and fun, but because they believe there is a race to save the planet as well.

Kathy Campbell, who lives in Corvallis, came up with friends Karen Baos of Central Point and Richelle Marshall of Medford. They participated last year with their spouses, and wanted to do the race again.

“We ditched our husbands this year,” Campbell laughed. “It’s girls’ time, and we’re supporting a good cause.”

Marshall said the course was a bit different this year.

“The course is the same length, but it was a little harder this year,” Marshall said. “It was more physical. It required a lot more upper-body strength.”

Michelle Williams, who lives in Seattle, caravanned down Interstate 5 with a group of about a dozen moms who were eager to compete in the race. All of them wore pink T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, “Run like a mother.”

Williams said she has been competing in the event for the past four years, and entices more friends to participate every year.

“This is the place to be,” Williams said. “We love to say we did this event. It’s the best feeling in the world, and usually I recycle my shoes at the end.”by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Steve Johnson (right), a community recycling specialist for USAgain, watches a massive pile of running shoes grow larger and larger as Warrior Dash competitors stop to leave their muddy shoes after participating in the 5k obstacle course.

For Williams’ group, however, this year’s Warrior Dash had an added edge to it. Nikki Adams, one of the team’s runners, found out in December that she has breast cancer. After chemotherapy, she was not able to race this year, but came down to be with her friends.

Adams said she missed being able to compete.

“I’ve raced here for the last three years,” she said. “I’m pretty sad I can’t do it this year. I didn’t think it would be this bad, but it is.”

Another runner, Wilsonville resident Brittany Clark, said this year’s Warrior Dash was her first. Clark, who works for Metro Gymnastics in Tigard, said her company does a lot of recycling, but she heard about the event because the business arranged for a group of employees to compete as a team-building exercise.

Clark said she enjoyed the challenge. There were a total of 12 obstacles along the course, and Clark thought the climbing wall — a steep plywood wall featuring ropes for runners to pull themselves up with — was the most grueling.

“The wall was the hardest thing to do of the obstacles,” she said. “It was awesome. I’ll definitely be back next year.”

USAgain’s Johnson said he too expects to be back in 2014, because he believes the stakes are too high to sit it out. He noted that approximately 300 million pairs of shoes are landfilled annually, and a shoe takes about 50 years to break down.

Johnson, a Seattle resident, explained that the environmental impact of recycling shoes is much more than most people realize.

“Ask 10 people in a room what are the top four or five items they recycle, and if even one says ‘clothing,’ I’d be surprised,” Johnson explained. “It’s usually glass, paper, plastics. But clothing is near the top of the food chain for benefits. Recycling one ton of glass saves one ton of CO2, but recycling one ton of clothing saves seven tons.”

Johnson added that he was gratified to see the positive response from the Warrior Dash runners to recycling their shoes.

“Typically, we get 30 to 35 percent of their shoes turned in,” he said. “We are estimating approximately 3,200 pairs — or about 4,500 pounds — of shoes (from the North Plains’ event). That equates to a little over 15 tons of CO2.”