MILL CREEK — It is no run-of-the-mill race.Well, it is, but in name only.
Mediocre, it isn’t. Just the opposite: it’s excellent.
Maybe a spectator summed it up best as she watched runners cross the finish line in the 25th annual Run of the Mill 5K roadrace recently. “I think,” she said, “this is a fun atmosphere.”
Warm, sunny day. Fast course. Well organized race. Live music. Post-race block party.
Even the dogs seemed to enjoy it. Little dogs, medium-sized dogs, even one really big dog (a Saint Bernard).
As a lean, mean, running-machine Boxer neared the finish line, he had that doggy-kind of expression that drooled, “Dude, this is so cool.”
How’s this for cool? A nationally-recognized runner won the race, shed his shoes because his feet were burning up, then went back out on the course to cheer the rest of the field home.
Jordan McNamara was clapping, pumping his arms, ‘cheering for the people.’”
“Let’s go,” he shouted, “run all the way.”
And that “Green O” he had painted on his right thigh? Yeah, he’s an Oregon Duck. And on this day he gave many a Husky fan a hoo-rah.
“Whether you finish first or last,” he said, “you’ve got to recognize them for contributing to an incredible cause.”
You heard that often when runners were asked why they’d entered this race: great cause.
Maybe someone you know has benefitted from it. If they were a cancer victim, maybe they were having a tough time meeting basic needs — putting food on the table, paying the rent, filling the gas tank in the car.
Every cent of each entry fee goes to charities, the bulk of it to the Linda Baltzell Cancer Patient Assistance Fund at Everett’s Providence Regional Cancer Partnership. Last year more than $38,000 went to help people in cancer treatment.
With nearly 2,000 entries this year, Steve and Linda Knox of Columbia Funding Mortgage — the prime corporate sponsor of the race — hoped to exceed that amount.
Linda Baltzell died of cancer 33 years ago. She and her husband Jerry were living in Everett when she contracted the disease. Jerry, who now lives in Post Falls, Idaho, said they had good insurance but realized that many people didn’t. “Linda wanted to set up a fund to help cancer victims,” he said.
Jerry wasn’t sure donations could sustain the fund for more than a few years, but 30-plus years later, it’s still providing help. “Hundreds of thousands of dollars have gone to cancer patients,” he said. “It’s amazing to me that it has continued on.”
This year, he had entered the Run of the Mill race for the first time, had made hotel reservations, but a tragic irony scotched those plans. His current wife’s brother had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer. Marshall Johnson died a day after the race.
We’ve all been there. We’ve all lost friends or relatives to cancer. One who survived it was in this race.
Jon Hickey had a rare form of skin cancer that normally touches people in their 50s and 60s. He was a sophomore in college when he got it, a track and cross country runner at the University of Washington. Hickey underwent a 10-hour operation and has been cancer-free for six years.
One of his teammates was Caleb Knox, son of Steve and Linda. When the Knoxes took over the Run of the Mill run in 2006, it was Hickey and some of his teammates who “inspired us to turn the event into a charity fundraiser to help people fighting cancer,” Steve said.
Donations went to the Lance Armstrong fund the first two years, and to the Linda Baltzell fund the past three years.
Entries, which had dipped to around 200, more than doubled the first year the Knoxes were in charge of the race, even though they had only about six weeks to put it together. It has become so popular that they’ve had to cap the field at 2,000. “We can’t handle any more than that,” said clerk of the course Eric Hruschka, head coach of the boys track and cross country teams at Jackson High School, whose booster club volunteers to help out on race day.
It’s a good race for youngsters to see how their summer conditioning programs are going and to hang out with kids from other schools in a fun atmosphere.
Besides the preps, the field included hotshot adult amateurs, recreational runners, people trying to get into shape, and a number of walkers with their dogs.
Then there were people like Barry Clark of Mill Creek, who was about to turn 50 and wanted to mark the milestone by running his first race.
Rim Quist of Lynnwood was making the race a family affair. He was pushing his 3-year-old son Gabriel and his 21-month-old daughter Brenna in a stroller. And 6-year-old daughter Tehya was running.
Tehya had awakened that morning wide-eyed and rarin’ to go. “It was like, ‘OK, I’m ready,’” her father said.
She was, too. She came truckin’ across the finish line like a champion.
People from near and far came to run. Bob and Diane Berger were on vacation from San Antonio, hoping to get a “reprieve” from the south Texas heat. Steve and Linda Lightfoot were in the area to visit their son Andrew, and also looking to escape the oven known as Phoenix. Bridget Boman, who had recently signed a contract with Microsoft, was back in the area after two years in Sweden where she and her husband reside.
Several elite runners gave the field extra pizzazz. Mike Sayenko, who had recently placed seventh in the 10K at the U.S. Track and Field Championships, was butting heads with McNamara, who was eighth in the 5,000 meters at the NCAA Track and Field Championships last month.
Tony Young of Redmond brought luster to the field as the world record holder in the mile for men 45-49. And Sean Sundwall of Snoqualmie, who had re-started his running career five years ago after laying out since high school, had last month finished eighth in the Rock ‘n Roll half marathon in Seattle. “I’m 37 and feeling it,” Sundwall said.
Sayenko, an artist who did graphic design work for the race, had dominated the Mill run in recent years, and McNamara was out to change things, even though he was running with a stress fracture in his left foot that would require surgery a few days later. “This is a good way for him to re-break his foot,” Sayenko deadpanned.
“I aim to make things exciting for everybody,” McNamara vowed.
He kept his promise, breaking away from Sayenko in the home stretch, arms raised to acknowledge the cheers from the spectators.
Then he pulled off his shoes and went out to do his own cheering.