It was only minutes before the 36th annual Buckshot Run was scheduled to start and the skies poured down rain upon Carson Park. The situation did not look good.
But the predicted longer soaking suddenly stopped. It was race time, 9 o’clock, Saturday morning.
Somebody up there is looking out for us, was the general feeling of runners and officials.
Bob Lesniewski, race director for the first event more than three decades back, knew who it was. But it was unanimous.
Dan Conway was there once again.
Although he had passed away in May at the age of 79, he had returned to watch over and take care of the race he ran 32 times. With friends in support of Special Olympics.
And the 300 runners or so, including 15 from his hometown Superior-Duluth area, were there, ready to blast out of the blocks in honor of the former World Champion, a humble and special man.
In the newly named “Dan Conway 5-mile.”
The race proceeded with no further challenge from the elements.
“We were exceedingly lucky that the rain broke and there was only a 10-minute delay due to lightning,” race director Mike Salm said. “I can’t say enough for the people who showed up for Special Olympics.”
Due in part to inclement weather both Tuesday and Saturday, the numbers were been down some. There is no official account yet but it looks like finishers in the 800s with registrations under 1,000.
“I don’t put a lot into numbers any more,” said Wade Zwiener, former champion runner and director of the upcoming Carson 10. “It’s the quality of the event that is important.”
And thrown into the fire as first-year Indianhead Special Olympics director of development was Karina Tomei, a native of Puerto Rico and recent graduate of UW-Whitewater.
With some help but not a lot of knowledge of the situation, she came through with flying colors in place of veteran Karen Kraus, who moved on.
“This is unbelievable, overwhelming and amazing,” she said. “I survived my first Buckshot Run. All the hard work paid off. I was really happy to see all the families show up to support Special Olympics.”
On hand for the races was Scott Hoffmann, CEO of WIN Technology, the new main sponsor of the event. Hoffmann is the soccer coach for Regis/McDonell and is said to still be a top-notch soccer player.
Race officials were quick to credit businesses that supported the race. Some of them were Wipfli, Nestle, Hutchinson Industries and Mayo Clinic.
Streak still alive
Who showed up? Yes, they did. The races’ six Ironmen were back for their 36th run. Think of it. Quite a feat. Jerry Poling, Pat Callahan, Dave “Ace” Oestreich, Greg “Hulk” Faanes, Terry Hayden and Gary Ellis.
Ellis is the dean of the group at 71. He finished the 2-mile in 17:07, so he hasn’t lost a lot. In the first race in 1983, he finished seventh overall in the 5-mile in 29:37.
And how about the others? Jerry Poling did it 42:46. How does that compare? Believe it or not, he took 3:26 off his first race time of 46:12. At 60, he’s gotten better with age.
The same can not be said of Pat Callahan, 69. He breezed through the 5-mile in 34:56 then but slipped back to 63:42 now. Living the good life has almost doubled his time.
Oestreich, 66, did his first 2-mile in 20:31 and finished six seconds behind Herm Johnson — but not at Indy. This time he did 22:36. Hanging tough.
Faanes, 58, must have had too many brews. He has slipped from an 18:00 finish to 28:54, losing almost 11 minutes, while Hayden wasn’t far off his first run of 20:30 with a 21:41 clocking 36 years later. Impressive.
Rollie Larson, Eau Claire’s version of Dan Conway, did the 5-mile Saturday in 43:37 to finish 95th at 83 years old after he breezed though the 2-mile on Tuesday. ... On the disabled list with a leg injury, Diane Callahn missed only her second Buckshot. ... Kathi Madden, national class Masters runner representing the Conway contingent from Duluth, was one of four group award winners by posting a time of 39:25. She finished with Conway in last year’s race. Jesse Koski, 63, led the group taking 29th in 36:11. ... Mark Faanes, who has missed only once and continues to bring the Wipfli team on board every year, said he was not surprised that Becca Holman was Tuesday’s female winner. “She puts a back pack on and runs to and from work.” ... IndyCar driver Herm Johnson wasn’t the only sports luminary to run the first race. Others were major league baseball player Tom Poquette, golf champion Joe Springer, national powerlifter Jim Stein, international ski jumper Dan Mattoon and a bunch of others. ... The Minnesota duo of Rosemary Harnly, Red Wing, and Carol Prescher, Wabasha, said they have made nearly all the Buckshots and went home with their medals once again. ... The youngest finishers were 3-year-olds Gloria Giffey and Bradley Frederick, a grandson and a race veteran in his second year. ... L-T reporter Chris Vetter placed 57th in the 5-mile in a time of 38:47 — pushing his two kids in a stroller. ... L-T honors, however, go to Platteville-bred Nick Erickson, third in the 2-mile in 12:18. ... Eleva’s Mandi Risler, a three-time 5-mile champion, dropped to the 2-mile and won for a fourth time. ... And Bob Lesinewski, the race founder, just can’t stay away. The 69-year old did the 5-mile in 52:17.