Mitch Pinsker has seen zombies before, but only from the sanctuary of a straw-filled wagon on a haunted hayride.
On Saturday, the 27-year old Plaza-Midwood resident will have another brush with the undead but without such protection. Pinsker will participate in the first Zombie Run Challenge, a macabre-themed game of tag hosted by SportsLink, a Charlotte company that coordinates adult sports and recreation.
Contestants will play the make-believe roles of zombies and their human prey as they traverse the open and wooded areas of Renaissance Park.
Despite the game being filled with metaphors of monsters eating people, the event has a humanitarian side. When registering, participants pledge allegiance to one of two designated charities - Habitat for Humanity or Hands On Charlotte - and compete on their behalf.
Everyone gets a T-shirt and cinch bag, and individual winners will receive gift certificates from local pubs and restaurants. The charities will receive proceeds based on game results and the amount of money registration fees pull in.
The premise of the Zombie Run Challenge is based on other similar events held throughout the U.S. SportsLink Event Coordinator Janelle Lavoie says most are held in urban settings, adding that the zombie event is believed to be the first of its kind in Charlotte.
Players are encouraged to use their imaginations. Zombies are encouraged to dress the part but leave props at home.
Here's how the game works:
When players register, they declare themselves "human" or "zombie." After leaving a starting point, the humans' objective is to find the "last four outposts of humanity."
After completing a physical or mental challenge at each outpost, they collect a key to survival and race against the clock to return to the finish line.
In the meantime, humans are trying to avoid becoming zombie ziti. The zombies' objective is to hunt down the humans and take a bite out of their good time by pulling a flag from their waist, much like flag football.
If a human gets "bitten," he can return to an outpost and seek medical attention to return to the game with a new flag.
Life will not be all fun and games for the zombies. Event organizers and volunteers will play the roll of zombie hunters. Equipped with Nerf guns, the zombie hunters will try to temporarily disable zombie targets.
Contestants will have access to the park's southeast half. They will start play around the tennis and sand volleyball courts and roam the area encompassed by the three-mile mountain bike trail known as the "Tennis Court Trail."
A veteran adult kickball and ultimate Frisbee player, Pinsker says he has participated in 5- and 1-kilometer runs before but likes races that are a little "more interesting and challenging."
"I signed up to be a human," Pinsker said. "I have more firsthand experience on the human side.
"Being a zombie is a little out of my element right now."
Annie Wang, 24, said she registered as a zombie because she thought most people would want to stay human. She predicted correctly, according to Lavoie.
Wang said, "I wanted to go with something a little different and chase after people and pull their flags. ... I feel like I've seen a couple of zombies on TV. But I don't know if I've ever met one in person."
"I can't wait for my next meal," she said.
SportsLink offers leagues in 12 sports and other social recreation activities, like corn hole tournaments. Lavoie says if the Zombie Run Challenge is a success, it may turn into a semi-annual or annual event.