Our Story

Where it all began...

In 2011, two local runners, Ben Putman and Max Mahler, revived the Cow Paddy Run, a popular race that raised money for Fayetteville’s Gulley Park in the 1990s, which was instrumental in their early adoption of running. With clear support from the community, the Cow Paddy Foundation became a 501(c)(3) non-profit to continue that legacy of giving back. Through its disbursement of race proceeds to schools and strong community partnerships, the nonprofit established itself as a dependable financial supporter of innovative public education projects around health and fitness through its partnership with the Fayetteville Public Education Foundation and its support of Fayetteville Public Schools.

Over the years, programming expanded to include more races, the Hero Half Marathon in 2014 and the Nutty Runner 5K in 2018, as well as outreach programs in elementary schools. In 2016, the board adopted the name “The Spark Foundation” to better encompass these new offerings and connect to their vision of a world in which kids and families have opportunities to create healthy habits at an early age and a community that supports them in doing so.

Our Mission


The Spark Foundation’s mission is to create a positive impact in the community by providing increased access to health and fitness opportunities and education through:

I. Racing Events - We produce three annual races that appeal to a broad range of runners, volunteers, and community partners. We strive to serve runners of all ages and experience levels.
II. Outreach Programming - Through strategic partnerships with schools and partner organizations, we create and support programming that increases access to health and fitness education and encourage outdoor recreation opportunities.
III. Giving & Grantmaking - We support the creation of a healthy, active lifestyle through direct gifts to schools and our support of the Fayetteville Public Education Foundation.

Our Vision


A world in which active kids and families have opportunities to create healthy habits at an early age and a community that supports them in doing so.

We started in Fayetteville, and we will continue to serve our hometown as we expand to inspire all of Northwest Arkansas and beyond.