Our Phoenix Rescue Run

"Predators are getting bolder every day. They mostly target our children online through various apps and gaming, although you will see the occasionally attempted kidnapping.”

Organizers of an upcoming 5k race in Peoria have two goals: raise awareness about human trafficking and raise funds to battle the problem.

The race kicks off at 8:30 a.m. Dec. 7,  at the Peoria Sports Complex, 16101 N. 83rd Avenue. The kid’s run starts at 9:50 a.m. Registration includes a medal, T-shirt, raffle entry, snacks, photos to download and free kids zone for racers. 

Registration is $40 in advance or $45 on race day. Kids run registration is $15 in advance or $20 on race day. All proceeds go to Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.) to prevent human trafficking. For more information and to register, visit ourphoenixrescuerun.com

The first three years of the event raised a total of $38,000, used in efforts to rescue and rehabilitate victims of human trafficking. So far 650 volunteers and runners are slated to participate in the race, raising $19,000. Local businesses including Knight Trucking and Swift Trucking sponsor the event.

Trista Kruckenberg is the O.U.R. Phoenix Rescue Run event director. She said until recently, she was oblivious to the human trafficking problem in the U.S. Several years ago, her friend in another state put on a 5k run to benefit O.U.R., and Kruckenberg followed the progress on social media. That’s also when she learned about the issue of human trafficking.

“I didn’t even know this was a problem in our world,” she said. “It’s such a dark thing, it’s not really on people’s radar.”

Later, she came across Elizabeth Smart’s book about her first-hand account of being abducted and enduring being raped by her captor for months. Kruckenberg said the story inspired her to dig deeper into the subject.

“The more I learned, I realized good people don’t even know what’s going on,” she said. “It’s been eye-opening. We just go through our day to day and life seems good and safe, but for so many, it’s not that way.”

Kruckenberg wondered what she could do to help. She reached out to her friend and found out how she could put on a similar 5k here in the Phoenix area. That was four years ago, the first year the O.U.R. Phoenix Rescue Run was put on. Since then, it’s grown and the money raised has helped free children who were enslaved and assisted in rehabilitation efforts. 

O.U.R., a national nonprofit founded in 2013, hosts various events all over the country to raise funds, and it also partners with law enforcement to rescue those trapped in human trafficking. O.U.R.’s Underground Jump Team consists of former CIA, Navy SEALs and Special Ops operatives that lead coordinated identification and extraction efforts.

According to O.U.R., human trafficking is $150 billion industry and is set to surpass drugs in the next couple of years. Over 30 million people sold in trafficking with 2 million being children who are sold as sex slaves. 

Nicki Blackhurst is the O.U.R. Arizona volunteer team leader who assists Kruckenberg with the Peoria race, and also holds other events in Arizona to spread the message of human trafficking. 

“We try to educate the community on various things, even beyond human trafficking, like how to keep your kids safe on the internet, how to get involved on a local level with aftercare, how kids are being targeted in Arizona, and of course what human trafficking looks like in Arizona,” Blackhurst said.

In October, O.U.R. Arizona hosted “The Music and the Message” with keynote speaker Elizabeth Smart and various artists, including Rosevelt Sings and William Joseph. O.U.R. Arizona also hosted its first-ever gala in April, which featured Tim Ballard, founder of O.U.R., and musician Lindsey Stirling. 

Through these events, many people in Arizona are learning how to spot human trafficking and also donating to help the cause. Blackhurst added that about 40 percent of the missions for O.U.R. is funded by people who donate monthly.

“Human trafficking in Arizona is very real,” Blackhurst said. “In fact, my husband reported it just last weekend while at a small park in Ahwatukee while he was there with my son. Predators are getting bolder every day. They mostly target our children online through various apps and gaming, although you will see the occasionally attempted kidnapping.”

Blackhurst praised the Mesa Police Department for a sting that arrested more than 25 alleged pedophiles. “Mesa PD went undercover and posed as teenage girls to lure them out.” Blackhurst said

For more information about O.U.R. and human trafficking, visit ourrescue.org.