Ron Marinucci December '22 Column - A look back at a Roseville running tradition
by Ron Marinucci, Dec. 8, 2022
Roseville (11/13)—The morning opened with overcast skies, the sun trying to peek through the cloud cover. Nippy, especially after a couple of weeks of unseasonably warm November temperatures, those temperatures hovered in the mid-30s at race time. It was the morning of the 44 th annual Big Bird Runs.
The weather can be fickle at the Big Bird. That’s always been one of its charms. Runners rarely know too far in advance what to expect from Mother Nature. From sunny skies with 70 degrees or four or five inches of snow to rainstorms with winds so strong that 10K runners almost feared they’d be blown off the pedestrian overpass across I-696. This year, except for a wind perhaps stronger than most
runners would have liked, Mother Nature cooperated.
Upon arrival at the Recreation Authority of Roseville and Eastpointe Recreation Center, runners were greeted, as always, by the Roseville High School Marching Band. Band members helped to get runners and walkers in the spirit, both for racing and the coming holiday season, with a medley of holiday tunes.
Then, what was that? A 1976 Chevrolet Impala, refurbished as a police car, there to help marshal the course? No, Roseville Police Chief Ryan Monroe proudly explained. “It’s a ’77 Caprice, the first year that model was made.” It was restored, perfectly, into a patrol car, one usually brought out, Monroe noted, “only on special occasions like this.”
The refurbished squad car is a memorial to Roseville Officer Albert De Smet, who was killed on duty. Monroe added, “It’s a tribute to the officers who lost their lives protecting the city of Roseville.”
Monroe did much of the work himself, but was quick and eager to share credit. He cited other officers, Roseville High School auto shop students, and a number of local businesses.
Meanwhile, the Big Bird hosts three events—a one-mile run/walk and 5K and 10K races. This year’s 5K was new, replacing the former 4K. At the starting line, runners were kiddingly reminded, “You’re running a historic event…making history…the first-ever Big Bird 5K!”
Long-time race director Tony Lipinski explained. “We’ve been toying with the idea with that [a 5K race] for the past few years. A 5K is a more universal run [than a 4K]. We finally decided to pull the trigger.” Early 5K registration outpaced the 10K and race day ended up with a handful more participants (93-85).
All three courses are pancake flat, the only “hills” being those out-and-back pedestrian overpasses on the 10K course. Race starts were staggered to avoid congestion. Plenty of police officers and volunteers ensured safe routes. Sixty-nine runners and walkers entered the mile event with 24-year old Tyler Brege a repeat winner from last year. (The 2020 Big Bird was virtual.) Brege ran 5:28 to beat Alex Williams by twenty seconds. Megan Godin topped the females (7:57), improving on her runner-up finish in 2021.
A special group of eight runners from Fast Feet NYC also competed in the mile run. Fast Feet’s Detroit Children’s Hospital chapter helped train kids with neurological and physical disabilities to build the endurance to complete the run. The Big Bird one-mile was the goal of their eight-week training. Fast Feet runners, ages four to eight, included brothers Eli and Deon Foster, Mei’A Lee-Terry, Maurice White, Aldo Vicuna, David Walker, and Christian Del Gado. In the spirit of the season, Lipinski said Fast Feet members were accorded complimentary entry.
The inaugural 5K attracted ninety-three runners (“Please, no walkers.”). They were paced by Malik Jordan, whose 18:46 nipped Justin Pinks by six seconds. Eleven-year old Kylie Lohr led the females (25:36), twelve ticks in front of Elle Patritto, also 11. Third overall was masters runner David Toutant (19:50), followed by Caen Thomason-Redus (20:00) and Alex Ottoy (20:04) who were fourth and fifth overall respectively. Stacy Skaltounis was first among the masters women (26:23). Seniors were led by Bill Brege, Tyler’s father, in 21:15 and Rebecca Hendren (29:17)
Notable among the 5K finishers was John Wehrly. The veteran ran 36:12 at the age of 82. That age-graded to 21:33, which would have placed him eighth overall and second masters. “It’s good to be here,” he smiled after his effort.
In the 10K, Eric Lohr, father of Kylie, won in 35:25, half a minute ahead of Mark Reiman. That was quite a way off the course record set by Olympian Brian Sell (29:18), but in tune with last year’s winning 10K time. Hannah Vantiem was the first woman (45:17). She was another repeat winner from 2021, as was masters winner Kim Lubrick (49:59). Making a trio of repeats from last year was masters champion John Olszewski (38:35), placing him fourth overall. The seniors were led by Michael Freigruber (46:35) and Michelle Miller (1:02:32).Noteworthy, too, was long-time Big Birder David Rau. The 76-year old finished in 56:56, whose age-graded 38:35 would have matched him with Olszewski for first among the masters and fourth overall.
Afterward, most runners gathered in the RARE Recreation Center for post-race refreshments and banter, awaiting the awards presentations. Overall and age-group winners received plaques and medals along with nifty over-the-shoulder beverage coolers. The sizable raffle included backpacks and about thirty turkeys (“big birds”). Results can be found at www.eastsideracingcompany.com or www.rare-mi.org.