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Madison Shamrock Shuffle: Profile of Founder Megan Sisson

The Madison Shamrock Shuffle has been in existence for 10 years, long enough that it’s hard to imagine a St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Madison without it. But today’s 5,000-racer strong event - an explosion of emerald exuberance – would never have happened if not for the sweat equity of a small group of founders.

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One of the three founding members of the Madison Shamrock Shuffle Board of Directors is physical therapist Megan Sisson. "I was inspired to start the run when I was on the St. Patrick's Day parade committee and they wanted ideas on how to grow the event,” said Sisson. “I'm Irish and I love to run so it seemed like the obvious choice.”

Megan’s passion for running and for all things Irish drove many decisions surrounding the Shuffle. Her signature contribution was finding ways to dial up the “fun factor” to 11. “She always looked for ways to make it more of a party. How could we make it more fun for EVERYONE?” said current race directorSteve Donovan.

The way that joie de vivre is expressed has shifted over the years. “In 2005, we were expecting to register about 700 runners,” said Donovan. “It was a growing race but it was only a 5K and we organized it like we organized a party…. That year, Megan was dead-set on getting a ‘Boom Box’ on the course playing Irish music.” From song selection to making sure the boom box indeed had enough batteries to entertain the field, Sisson made certain that the Shuffle stayed true to its Irish roots – and that runners’ spirits were lifted along the way.

Lifting spirits often took a touch of whimsy. “[Megan] wanted the slogan ‘When Irish Thighs are Smiling’ for several years before she was able to convince people that it was a good slogan,” said friend and fellow Shuffle co-founder Lorrie Frautschi. “Her tenacity and good humor kept everyone going.”

And the momentum has kept rolling for a decade. With 5K10K, and 2-mile walk courses, the Madison Shamrock Shuffle now draws thousands of runners and is one of the biggest fundraisers of the year for the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County. When asked what she wanted people to know about the Madison Shamrock Shuffle, Megan said, “I would love people to know that our run shows that you can have fun and get exercise at the same time.”

That mindset – a event that provides simple joy for everyone involved, from racers to walkers to volunteers – persists. “We will always remain true to this standard set,” said Donovan. “Moving into the future, [Megan] will continue to remain active though she's stepping down from the board. Her contributions will always be appreciated as one of the primary founders of this race as well as the person who set the stage for one of the best 5K/10K's in the state.”

And the Irish music scene? Forget the boom box. For the 2013 event, the Madison Shamrock Shuffle will offer not only traditional bagpiping but also the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County Drum Line at the 5K turnaround point and The Kissers, a hometown favorite band of “rock musicians that learned to play Irish music.”

As for Megan’s next adventure? “Bagpipe lessons,” she said. 

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