by Jessica Langdon
WEA — People in and around here really know how to make things mooooove.
The Running With the Cows race started as a fundraiser for Queen of the Holy Rosary School in Wea — and it benefits the school in a big way.
But in a few short years, dedicated organizers and volunteers have steered it into something that draws people from near and far.
The run promises lots of fun, starting with its flier art, which features a Holstein cow in running shoes.
Participants in the half marathon (13.1 miles) and 5K (3.1 miles) range from “world class runners to strollers and little tykes,” said Gwen Schreiner, one of the race coordinators for Running With the Cows.
In fact, it’s one of three big-name races — along with Rock the Parkway in Kansas City, Missouri, and the Garmin Marathon in Olathe — that make up the Heartland 39.3 Series, giving runners an opportunity to complete three half marathons in two states within five weeks and receive a medal for the series.
Runners and walkers turned out by the thousands the morning of May 9 for Running With the Cows, which is in its sixth year.
Everyone who finished received a commemorative cowbell.
“I think our race is special because the people who’ve never been there before all comment they’ve never seen a community that’s so welcoming and so passionate about the event,” said Schreiner.
It’s been fun coming up with every possible cow pun they can think of — and everyone from adults in Holstein-spotted leg warmers to babies in full cow costumes get into it.
The race is the brainchild of school parent Liz Meek, a runner herself, and organizers have worked hard to keep the runners coming back.
Some runners told organizers they’d never been thanked for coming to a race before, and others even expressed interest in sending their kids to the school after seeing the community in action.
Supporters rang cowbells at the start/finish line and along the route.
“It’s been great for our kids to see volunteers in action and see fitness being promoted,” said Schreiner, who attributes the success of the event to one thing: “It’s just blessed.”
Even the rain that had been predicted for much of the area didn’t materialize — not that it would have kept many participants away.
‘A common cause’
Father Larry Albertson, pastor of Queen of the Holy Rosary in Wea, blessed the runners before the race, and schoolchildren sang the national anthem.
Area Catholic high school students and others greeted runners along the way, handing out water and treats as they passed by.
“I love the community participation,” said Jan Petet, a parishioner of Most Pure Heart of Mary Parish in Topeka. “I mean, you walk in there and you feel like you’re part of this big family. And you’re looking at all these faces and you’re, like, ‘I don’t know you, but I’m sure we’re related just because we’re all here for a common cause.’”
Petet’s daughter Cristal Barnes ran the half marathon, while Petet, her oldest daughter and her granddaughter walked the 5K route.
Proceeds from the run benefit the school as well as Catholic Relief Services. And for the past couple of years, the race has also given people a chance to support the seminarians — make that “semoonarians” for this event — through donations.
Priests and seminarians were also invited to participate, and several took the organizers up on it, including Petet’s pastor, Father Greg Hammes, of Most Pure Heart of Mary.
Father Nathan Haverland, associate pastor at Church of the Ascension in Overland Park, Father Edward Ahn, AVI, associate pastor at Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Father Charles Vreeland, FSSP, a chaplain for the Latin Mass Community in Maple Hill, Father Quentin Schmitz, associate pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee and chaplain at St. James Academy in Lenexa, and Father Scott Wallisch, vocation director for the archdiocese, all signed on for the 5K.
Seminarians Viet Nguyen, Doug Leikam and Ben Rogers, along with Aidan Werth and Arturo Hernandez, who will begin seminary formation in the fall, all registered to run as well.
The event drew a huge crowd, made up of many with no connections to the school or the parish at all — and some with deep ties.
Ali Hartter walked the 5K with her husband, mom and daughters, and loves to see so many people coming out year after year to support the event — and the cause.
And that’s for good reason: She teaches fifth grade at Queen of the Holy Rosary School. Knowing this is a main fundraiser for the school makes it all the more special.
“It’s a great atmosphere. It is just so fun,” she said. “It really just pumps you up, and everyone’s excited. It’s just a really great day — the hospitality, volunteers, food. Every detail is planned.”
“We actually feed, like, 5,000 people that day,” said Schreiner. “Nobody leaves hungry.”
The post-race buffet is a mix of everything. Some are parishioners’ specialties, but area restaurants all haul in treats to fill the tables.
Parishioners Ray and Julie Seefeldt — who are launching a pasta business called Magdalena Pasta — ladled out for the runners bowlfuls of homemade pasta (regular and buckwheat) topped with pulled pork and grapes.
“People like it,” said Ray Seefeldt. “They’re very curious. And then once they try it, they really love it because of the mix of flavors.”
And it’s all part of a much larger cause.
“This is really a big deal for our school,” said Hartter. “It’s so important to the kids, the teachers — everyone involved in the school — because this is what sustains us and really keeps us running so we can give the best educational opportunities to the students.”