NEW BUFFALO — The fourth annual Big Smiles 5k Run/Walk was blessed with perfect runners’ weather and a stirring chase for first place.

Defending champ Cameron Bredice of Bridgman left the start/finish line at New Buffalo’s beach as part of a group that would end up occupying the first 6 of the top 10 spots when everything was run and done.

Bredice, a 2014 Bridgman High School grad who currently runs for Davenport College, was first to finish, clocking in at 16:14.6 (which breaks his Big Smiles record of 16:23.4 set in 2015).

“Great race,” he said. “I really like this course. It’s challenging but at the same time there’s not a ton of hills. It’s fast, a lot of good volunteers out there to keep you going. I had fun.”

The next five to cross the line were: Nathan Blosser of Sodus (second place, 16:50.3); Kyle Friedler of Chicago (third, 16:56.6); Riley VanPelt of New Buffalo (fourth, 17:04.3); Alex Ortiz of Chicago (fifth, 17:18.8); and Elliott Hanke of Bridgman (sixth, 18:43.9).

Blosser recently graduated from Michigan State University where he was on the Spartan Running Club with VanPelt (a 2015 New Buffalo High School graduate and last year’s Big Smiles runner-up).

“I love good competition,” said VanPelt. “I’m friends with all these guys.”

Friedler and Ortiz are teammates on the Northside College Prep High School team where both will be seniors this fall.

Friedler said he had planned to compete in last year’s Big Smiles 5K, but was working a double shift at The Stray Dog.

Hanke is a 2016 Bridgman High School grad who recently was part of a state champion 3,200 meter relay team. He plans to attend Valparaiso University this fall.

Ashley Hamilton of Charlotte, Mich., was the first female finisher. Her time of 19:54.8 placed her eighth in the overall top 10.

A first-time Big Smiles competitor who decided to sign up the night before, Hamilton (a member of the Red Cedar Running Club in Lansing) noted that “Running along the water was really pretty.”.

She said there was a lot of good competition on July 2, “so I just worked with them.”

Next in was Paige Hosbein of Chicago, with a time of 20:14.1 that also had her making part of the overall top 10 (at exactly 10th). Hosbein was the second-place female finisher last year as well and is set to begin her high school running career at Latin school of Chicago in the fall.

“It was nice and cool,” she noted. “My favorite part is the hill down (to the finish line).”

Rounding out the women’s top 11 runners were: Megan Ravenscraft (third, 20:40.1); Michele Carey (fourth, 21:37.8); Gabi May (fifth, 21:41.3); Sarah Vosler (sixth, 22:03.4); Allison Cox (seventh, 22:09.6); Emily Neeb (eighth, 22:18.5); Morgan Tomaselli (ninth in 22:21.4) Michele Colander (10th, 22:23); and Zoe Case (11th, 22:57.8).

The remainder of the men’s top 10 were: Clay Sidenbender of Edwardsburg (7th, 19:41.3); Luke Kaslewicz of Glen Ellyn, Ill., (8th, 9th overall, and first in the 12-14 age group at 20:06.5); Jake Kaslewicz (9th, 11th overall, in 20:23.5); and Paddy McCormack (10th, 12th overall, in 20:23.6).

Luke Kaslewicz, 13, said he just kept swinging his arms to get over the hills he encountered.

A large group of walkers also were part of the Big Smiles 5K crowd, and their leader turned out to be Suzy Evans of Palos Park, Ill.

“I used to run … and now I walk every morning with my friends,” she said.

On July 2 she walked with some new friends since her “entire family” (husband John and children Henry, 14, and Grace, 12) ran the course.

Brother and sister 7-year-old Vincent and Tess Glombicki, 10, of Munster, Ind., finished side by side — and both won their age groups (he in the 8 and Under boys group and she in girls 9 to 11).

But who finished first between the two?

“It was neck-and-neck, we tied,” Tess said.

Seven-year-old Ava Quick of LaGrange Park, Ill., made the most of her first-ever 5K, placing second in the 8 and Under group and finishing in front of her grandmother, Sue Quick of Plymouth, Mich.

“She beat me fair and square,” Sue noted.

Big Smiles 5K run age-group winners also included:

MEN - Masters 50-Plus — Pete Katlowicz (36th overall, 23:50.6); 8 and Under - Vincent Glombicki; 9-11 - Nick Messinger (his brother, Evan, was second in the age group); 12-14 - Luke Kaslewicz; 15-19 - Kyle Friedler; 20-29 - Nathan Blosser; 30-39 - Dan Rayhawk; 40-49 - Geoffrey Schiciano; 50-59 - Ray Gurnick; 60-69 - David Prusa; 70 and Over - Riley Case.

WOMEN — Masters 50-Plus - Michele Carey (16th overall, 21:37.8); 8 and Under - Madison Grzywacz of New Buffalo (32.40.7); 9-11 - Tess Glombicki; 12-14 - Paige Hosbein; 15-19 - Gabi May; 20-29 - Megan Ravenscraft; 30-39 - Michele Colander; 40-49 - Kate Jasnieski; 50-59 - Julie Coffman; 60-69 - Susan Quick; 70 and Over - Cheryl Kasper.

The Big Smiles 5K benefits both the Dreaming Big Fund, established in memory of Kristen Heimbach (a 2000 New Buffalo High School graduate and local special education teacher who died in a 2008 car accident) to work toward her goal of providing help to families of children with special needs such as autism and other developmental disabilities, and its partnership with the South Bend-based Logan Center.

“Kristin Heimbach was with us for a long time, impacted a lot of lives, was taken from us far too early in a tragic auto accident … so we started the run in her memory,” said Rudy Prusa, one of the event’s organizers, while addressing the assembled participants moments before the start. “Thanks for keeping it going and supporting us.”

Bev Heimbach, Kristen’s mother, said the Big Smiles event is meant to keep Kristen’s memory, and her dream of helping the area’s special-needs children, alive.

“I know the big smile is up there. Have a good run,” she said prior to the July 2 start.

Logan Center Director of Development Jill Langford thanked Big Smiles participants for supporting the children’s fund at Logan Center and the individuals it serves with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“We can’t do what we do without the support of the community that embraces us both here in Southwest Michigan and in the South Bend region,” she said.

“I particularly want to thank Bev and Ed Heimbach,” Langford noted. “We do this in a very special memory of a very special young woman named Kristen.”

Bev noted that an annual scholarship is given to a New Buffalo High School student interested in going into special education of a similar field and said the Dreaming Big Fund also sponsors a golf outing which will take place Aug. 20 in La Porte.

Langford announced that a Logan’s Run fund-raiser for the center will take place Aug. 6 in South Bend.

During his pre-race comments Prusa thanked Katie Maroney of Equilibrium Fitness, head of the committee that organized the Big Smiles 5K, the many volunteers out on the course, and the Bowen family for setting up post-race refreshments.

The Big Smiles 5K Walk/Run kicked off a three-event Harbor Country Fitness Series that also includes an Aug. 13 Ship N Shore Shuffle 5K and the Harvest & Wine Hustle 5K scheduled for Oct. 8. All three races will follow the same basic schedule as the Big Smiles 5K, with 8 a.m. starts at New Buffalo’s beach and the adjacent Lions Park. Online registrations can be made at www.hcfitseries.com.

Maroney said the Aug. 13 Ship N Shore Shuffle, taking place during the 2016 renewal of the Ship & Shore Festival tradition in New Buffalo, will benefit local athletic programs.

“We decided to partner with New Buffalo High School athletics and also New Buffalo Youth Sports for the Ship N Shore Shuffle,” she said.

Proceeds from the Harvest & Wine Hustle will go to the Friends of Harbor Country Trails.

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