By Mike Staley
The 41st annual Fifth Third River Bank Run took place on Saturday and brought thousands of racers to downtown Grand Rapids.
The weather wasn’t ideal with temperatures in the low 40s at race time, but the rain was kind enough to hold off during the events. Races ranged from a 5K walk to a 25K run with many other races in between.
A group of eight ladies from Spectrum Health OB-GYN South Pavilion came out to walk the 5K and have a good time with their co-workers and promote health.
“Most of us, this is our first year out here,” said one member of the group. “We’re just looking to have a good time, team building, having fun together and just being healthy.”
There was a special 25K race that started shortly after the main 25K run. MyTeam Triumph saw teams of runners pushing people in specialized racing wheelchairs who weren’t able to run. Sabrina from Grand Rapids was part of one of these teams and explained why they were out competing in the race.
“We run for myTeam Triumph for those who aren’t able to run for themselves,” she said. Sabrina and her team were pushing their team captain Johannah, a 12-year-old from Benton Harbor. When asked what their goals were for the race, Sabrina jokingly said, “Ummm…12 minutes. Ya, so we’ll see.”
While some runners were racing for a cause, a lot of racers like Adam Weaver of Grand Rapids came out to hang out with their friends and have a good time.
“Awful! It was a 10K,” Weaver said about how the race went. “I’m just out here with some buddies. This was my first year. First, last and only.”
Even though Weaver had a rough time during the race, he had his biggest fan cheering him on. Weaver’s 10-year-old son, Nash, was holding a sign that read, “Dude, my dad is perfect.”
When asked how he thinks his dad did in the race, Nash simply said, “alright.”
“Tough crowd,” his dad said laughing.
Andrew Vriesema, 27, of Holland, ran the 25K in previous years but decided it was time for a change this year and chose to compete in the 10K.
“I think I did well,” Vriesema said. “I haven’t checked my official time yet, but I felt good. I ran the 25K a few years ago but this is the first time I’ve run the 10K. The 25K was a bit too long for me, so I figured I’d step it down a little bit.”
Running a race takes great physical and mental stamina, but one spectator decided to try and lighten the mood and held up signs that got a chuckle out of racers as they passed by.
Clyde Waltenbaugh, of Rockford, was cheering on his fiancée, and held up a sign reading, “I ran once, it was awful.” The backside of that sign said, “My girlfriend just ran by you.”
Waltenbaugh explained that his lively signage was intended to inspire.
“It’s kind of motivational,” Waltenbaugh said. “I want to get them kind of relaxed, you know run out there and have some fun and enjoy it while you’re out there.”
Waltenbaugh wanted to help ease the pressure of the runners, but was mainly focused on supporting his fiancée.
“I could be hunting today,” Waltenbaugh said. “But, it’s a big deal for her for me being at the races ‘cause she knows I support her so much. I always have to catch her at the finish. It’s a lot of fun.”
Competitors came from all over the country to compete. The events saw local winners as well as national ones.
Tom Davis of Fremont, Mich. took home first place in the 25K hand cycle race. He finished in 38:15. Davis strolled away from the rest of the competition finishing four and a half minutes in front of second place.
The 25K wheelchair race also saw a dominant performance. Aaron Pike of Savoy, Ill. won the race finishing in 56:30. Second place didn’t cross the finish line for another two minutes and 38 seconds.
Sam Chelanga of Colorado Springs, Colo. won the men’s 25K with a time 1:14:52, just barely eking out victory over Scott Fauble of Flagstaff, Ariz. by three seconds. The women’s 25K saw a familiar face in the winner’s circle. Aliphine Tuliamuk of Flagstaff, Ariz. won the women’s 25K for the third straight year. She finished with a time of 1:25:34 with second place finishing 21 seconds behind her. Both Chelanga and Tuliamuk took home a prize of $10 thousand for their victories on Saturday.
Isaac Mukundi of Lansing, Mich. wasn’t satisfied competing in just one race, so he entered in the men’s 5K and 10K. Mukundi swept both races finishing the 10K in 31:26 and the 5K in 15:14. McKenzie Diemer of Caledonia won the women’s 10K finishing just two seconds over 39 minutes.
While most of the competitors in the races were adults, one racer stood out from the rest of the pack.
Clara James-Heer, 11, of Forest Hills won the women’s 5K with a finishing time 17:52. That time was good enough to place her at 14 out of all the racers who competed in the 5K. In the 41-year history of these races, she is the youngest known winner of any race.
All the top 10 finishers in each race and category were posted online after the race and can be seen here.
This story was updated at 10:20 p.m., May 14, 2018.