By Herb Meeker
News Report Staff
There was some irony Saturday morning when the Lake Sara Dam Run was celebrating its 20th anniversary.
The thermometer was at 28 degrees shortly before the start, but organizers had invested in handing out free sweatshirts in honor of the anniversary. Few turned down the chance to pull on an extra layer of warm apparel that morning.
“It’s was our twentieth year, so we decided to hand out sweatshirts this year instead of T-shirts. Most of the people appreciated having an extra layer of clothing, so they came in handy,” said Ruth Rhodes, one of the founding runners of the annual fundraiser at the lake.
There was sunshine and little wind, so 683 runners and walkers lined up on the dam road to support the Junior Olympics. Over the past 17 years, the Dam Run, billed as the “Best Dam Run in Illinois,” has raised about $136,000 for Special Olympics. The event started out to support the DUI Task Force.
The turnout was down slightly from the past five years, Rhodes said.
“We have had 700 to 900 in the run the last five years. The weather was a factor. The people not coming out this year just don’t do the cold,” Rhodes said.
But those present on April 7 showed how the Dam Run has grown from a fun event for dedicated runners to a commitment to supporting a good cause like Special Olympics.
“We had 50 people come out in 1998. It just kept growing from there. Our biggest year was when we had 900 people out here on an Easter weekend,” said Rhodes, a retired Illinois State Police office coordinator who worked at the District 12 headquarters in Effingham. “The idea for the Dam Run came from a group of us running around the Lake. That’s when we thought it would be a good idea to have a running event to raise money.”
Janet Kennedy, of Effingham, remembered the excitement from the first Dam Run as she walked the course with friends, Lorin Lautrup and Laura Brummer.
“We had never participated in something like that before. We got a group of teachers together that year and had some T-shirts made up,” the retired teacher said. “It’s grown tremendously. But I don’t remember it being this cold.”
She was looking forward to the “tailgate” celebration that draws family and friends to a parking lot after the Dam Run. The bonding and some elixir warms them up after the walk. The Dam Run organizers, which includes Illinois State Police officers and retirees, offer donated pork burgers, pizza and other delights in the building near the finish line. That adds to the bonding each year for the event.
Lautrup, who was walking in honor of her late parents, believes the family and friends connections help bring out people each year to the Dam Run. It was the third time for the Gurnee resident.
“This is like a bonding group for me now. The lake is like a second home for me,” Lautrup said.
Effingham resident Linda Landers was walking the course Saturday due to a knee injury. She thought the Dam Run was important to hit the road despite her knee.
“The money goes to Special Olympics and I think that is a special cause. It brings awareness and the money helps. And I know some people with special needs,” Landers said.
Ellen Adendroth and Ari Bradfield, both Vandalia residents, were enjoying the cheering sections along the route – the Dam Run draws dozens of volunteers to help with the event and encourage participants.
“It’s a lot of fun and it’s a pretty setting. It appeals to my heart a bit,” Adendroth said while encouraging seven-year-old Ari as they walked.
There were Special Olympians and their parents at different stations for handing out water to participants. On Saturday, there were few runners dowsing themselves to cool off.
The top winners of the Dam Run show how the event is a popular draw across Illinois. The winners included Patrick Morgan, Wheaton, 8-mile male runner; Taylor Ellis, Danville, 8-mile female runner: Julie Zimmerman, Danville, 5-kilometer female walker; Tony Miksanek, Benton, 5-K male walker; Brennan and Michele Guido, St. Joseph, son and mother winners of the 5-K male and female walkers
There were runners and walkers pushing children in carts. There were also children involved in the run and walk divisions.
Sometimes, it is hard to tell whether the dogs are being led by their owners or vice versa. That was the case for a German shepherd and Australian-mix breed. The cold was not slowing them down whatsoever Saturday, which had their owners trying to keep up.