By Scott Sullivan
The Mt. Baldhead Challenge celebrated 20 years Saturday in a big way.
The Saugatuck-Douglas Rotary Club-sponsored charity 7.5- and 12-mile runs promised entries nothing fast and easy, but beautiful and fulfilling.
A twisting, turning roller coaster of cool, canopied hard packed trails, some soft sand and steep dunes, a couple of steps and finish at Wicks Park. The stunning lakeshore offered a welcome cool breeze.
A Rotary record — by 30 percent — 526 entrants tackled “West Michigan’s Ultimate Multi-Terrain Runs,” as sponsors billed it on a sunshine-blessed, mild day, perfect for distance running.
The enhanced course included more trails than ever before. Highlights included Talmadge Woods, unparalleled views from the Crow’s Nest, 302 steps — some say 303 — to the top of the giant Mt. Baldhead, a swift (gravity assisted) descent toward Lake Michigan, a half-mile along the water’s edge of Oval Beach, new Woollam Natural Trail and Kalamazoo Lake-hugging finish to downtown Saugatuck, where a finishers celebration awaited at Wicks Park.
Games, sunshine, cool breezes, imaginative beverages donated by Saugatuck Brewing, thumping tunes were enjoyed by friends and families huddled to commiserate on the scope of the challenge and celebrate their accomplishments.
Flat, fast courses? Anything but. Unforgettable? Yes! There are reasons this event keeps growing.
Pre-race warm-up music was punctuated by Rotary president Jim Sullivan briefly introducing a new dimension to this year’s community event. Its main beneficiary will be at-risk youth in our own community.
Greater Holland Boys and Girls Club executive director Craig Spoelhoff explained the impact the new club will have in our community.
The third partner in this alliance, the Saugatuck Public Schools, saw superintendent Tim Travis spoke about the need for these new services. Thus, the community event becomes an ongoing community investment in our kids, our families and ourselves.
Rob Veldman, 31, of Holland placed third in the MBC “Extreme Version” (12-mile) race in one hour, 15 minutes and 15 seconds. Women’s champ Erin Heenan, 37, of Ann Arbor, was fourth overall in 1:21:17.
George Troth, 39, of Alto, won the “Standard” 7.5-mile run, which started directly across the Kalamazoo River at the same time from the 12-mile start, in 57:09. Sarah Flowers, 27, of Holland was the women’s champ in 58:36.
Also claiming limited edition-James Brandess prints of “Dunes in Early Autumn,” an original oil painting depicting one of this year’s new course vistas, were 12-mile masters (over age 40) winners Corey Perez, 47, of Lake Orion in 1:23:45 and Heather Dunbar, 40, of Jenison in 1:46:17.
Also claiming prints were “Standard” race masters winners Jim Springer, 54, of Saugatuck, in 57:18 and Missy Biek, 44, of Elkhart, Ind., in 1:08:58.
Corey Perez, 42, of Lake Orion, led the male masters in 1:23:45.
Race entrants ranged from 16 to 77 years old.
Race committee members (alphabetically) Steve Baker, Ed Karasek, Katelyn Marsman, Megan Scheerhorn, Jack Sheridan, Gordon Stannis, Jim Sullivan, Scott Sullivan and Chris Yoder thanked generous event sponsors whose names will be listed in a Rotary ad next week.