GOSHEN — Just over 35 minutes into the Elkhart County 4-H Fair’s 32nd annual Parade 5,000 Road Run — nearly 20 minutes after the top runners had finished — a runner broke from a small pack with a finishing kick and blazed across the finish line, much to the delight of the huge crowd in the grandstand on Sunday, July 21.
That runner was 54-year-old Mark Zak of Goshen and the main reason for the crowd’s delight was the fact that Zak had pushed his 19-year-old handicapped daughter, Christa, the entire 5,000 meters in a wheelchair.
Talk about your goose-bump moment.
“I’ve been a runner before the kids came along, but when they were born I found ways to push them in a stroller when I could,” Zak said. “Christa can’t run, but she loves watching the scenery and when we run on a day like this, she loves seeing all the people along the route. It’s great that I get to be with my girls (Zak’s younger daughter, Noel, also ran in the race) and still do something I really love.”
About 10 minutes after the Zaks crossed the finish line, one of the best-trained runners in the field came home in 419th place, once again bringing the crowd to its feet.
However, Lonnie Camp, who runs ultra marathons that are 50 to 100 miles long or last 12-to-24 hours, had a bit of a disadvantage since he was running in his full fireman’s gear — oxygen tank and all — from his job with the Concord Fire Department.
“I guess I just wanted to see if I could do it and what it would take,” an exhausted Camp said later. “It really wasn’t that hard, but it was very hot. I really expected to be able to do it a little faster than I did, though.”
The overall winner of the race was Lelias Rojas of Cromwell, who entered the fairgrounds trailing Albion’s Ryan Smith, but passed the 18-year-old on the backstretch of the track and then held off Middlebury’s Andy Williams to win the race. Rojas posted a time of 15:32.47, while Williams was at 15:36.31
“He’s still young, but it looks like he’s got a great future ahead of him,” Rojas said of Smith. “I was able to catch him in the turn and then got by him on the straight. It was a lot of fun battling for the win like that.”
Melissa Gillette of Goshen was the women’s overal champion with a time of 19:05.11, besting a pair of runners from Elkhart, Karla Madirgal (19:34) and Bekah Shenk (19:36). Gillette had finished second in 2012.
“It’s not as hot as it was earlier in the week, but it was still pretty warm,” Gillette said. “I really didn’t want to go out fast and not have anything left, so I tried to pace myself and be as consistent as I could. It really feels great to win today.”
Another crowd favorite was 80-year-old Lonnie Scholl of Goshen, who has now run in 31 of the 32 fair 5,000s. Scholl uses the race as a mid-summer tune-up between running half-marathons in South Bend in June and Goshen in the fall.
And he does it waving a small American flag.
“I love this race, that’s why I keep coming back every year,” Scholl said. “I love seeing the people and I always shake the hand of Dr. (Robert) Able at the finish line. That makes it even more special to see him here every year.”
Also greeting Scholl at the finish line was Goshen’s Joan Gary, who finished just 16 seconds behind Scholl, posting a time of 41:46. But as the oldest lady in the field — by 18 years — Gary proudly posed for a picture with the other age-group winners.
“I just couldn’t quite catch you,” Gary told Scholl at the finish line. “Maybe next year I’ll have a little more left at the end and I can pass you.”
The race also featured a number of runners in costume, including the entire Northridge High School girls cross country team, who had their top finisher dressed as Pac Man.
Parade 5,000 Road Run
Top 20: Lelias Rojas (Cromwell) 15:32, Andy Williams (Middlebury) 15:36, Ryan Smith (Albion) 15:38, Tyler Wynn (Goshen) 16:14, Nate Jones (LaGrange) 16:36, Blake O’Dell (Bristol) 16:47, James Bradberry (Goshen) 16:56, Atlee Lambright (Topeka) 16:56, Justin Gillette (Goshen) 17:08, Tyler Alles (Ligonier) 17:11, Lyle Bontrager (Shipshewana) 17:27, Alex Oberlin (Millersburg) 17:29, Jacob Frost (Bristol) 17:31, Nate Miller (Millersburg) 17:32, Reid Zimmerman (Goshen) 17:42, Rustin Nyce (Goshen) 17:49, Nick Bouwman (Goshen) 17:54, Nick Woodward (Goshen) 18:00, Rusty Niccum (Wolcuttville, In.) 18:22, Mark Davidhizer (Elkhart) 18:23.
Top Women finisher: Melissa Gillette (Goshen) 19:05.
Age group winners: 12-under: Micah Cross (Goshen) 20:20. 13-15: Landon Miller (Millersburg) 18:38. 16-18: Ryan Smith (Albion) 15:38. 19-24: Tyler Wynn (Goshen) 16:14. 25-29: Andy Williams (Middlebury) 15:36. 30-34: Atlee Lambright (Topeka) 16:45. 35-39: Nate Jones (LaGrange) 16:36. 40-44: Chad Sommers (Elkhart) 20:45. 45-49: Todd Hoffer (Etna Green) 19:14. 50-54: Ruben Falcon (Goshen) 19:12. 55-59: Delbert Yoder (Goshen) 21:56. 60-84: Winford Jones (LaGrange) 21:59.
Age group winners: 12-under: Jillian Woods (Osceola) 21:10. 13-15: Hannah Yeakey (Goshen) 22:35. 16-18: Olivia Golden (Middlebury) 22:38. 19-24: Karla Madrigal (Elkhart) 19:34. 25-29: Bekah Shenk (Elkhart) 19:36. 30-34: Carrie Martin (Middlebury) 22:18. 35-39: Maria Lang (Elkhart) 24:09. 40-44: Petrana Petkova (Goshen) 19:48. 45-49: Christine Messick (Goshen) 25:59. 50-54: Deb Miller (Goshen) 24:56. 55-59: Loretta Lecount (Elkhart) 24:57. 60-84: Joan Gary (Goshen) 41:46.