By Blake Spurney
NEWTON—Mary Jane Mann of Topeka was perhaps the happiest person to be back in Hesston.
She celebrated her 89th birthday by crossing the finish line of the Emma Creek 5K in just under 44 minutes. She was joined by her classmate, Rita Sadowski of Newton, a few minutes later.
“I continued to run in 5 and 10 km. It’s my favorite,” Mann said. “We are old, but we can run.”
Mann said it was wonderful to be back in Hesston. The event has not taken place for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve been on many runs, and this one is the best,” Mann said. “They are doing a good job.”
Sadowski said she’s only missed one Emma Creek 5K since the first. She was cruising the Caribbean with other women in the Class of 1951 during the 1990 race. Mann, who runs four miles twice a week, missed just four of 31 races.
“There’s no way to walk with these guys,” Mann’s son Greg Verschelden said.
He came from Littleton, Colorado, to celebrate his mother’s birthday.
A total of 542 women and girls took part in the run, up from 711 in 2019. Christine Wyrick of the Hesston Recreation Commission said she was pleased with the turnout. The runners represented eight different states in addition to Kansas.
“There was so much excitement on race day,” she said. “We heard from so many people that they were happy we were back. And we were really happy to see everyone again.
Joanna Whittid of Wichita ran it for the third time.
“Because I like it,” she says. “I love the women’s race, the family support and the breakfast that follows. I like the small neighborhood we are going through.
Derby’s Jessimine Eskandarian and McPherson’s Diane Frazier crossed the finish line together in nun’s habit.
“We’re doing ‘The Sound of Music’ today and Sunday,” Eskandarian said. “That’s why we are dressed in our habits.”
The two cousins try to run a race in every state, and they said Saturday seemed like a good day to run, even though they left early to get ready for their 2 p.m. musical at McPherson.
Sara Hosford, 9, of Hesston, placed first in the 9-11 age group. She has racked up miles of preparation through a program at school.
“It’s something we do at school where you can earn a token,” she said. “I have 106 miles.”
Runners who placed in the top 10 in their respective age groups received their awards at the post-race brunch at Hesston High School.