by Doug Weller
Special to The Leaven
WEA — Perhaps it’s Queenie, the cartoon Holstein wearing running shoes, that first draws their attention.
But what keeps runners coming back to Wea’s Queen of the Holy Rosary’s annual “Running with the Cows” race is the community atmosphere.
“We wanted this to be different — not just another race,” said Liz Meek, one of the founders of the half-marathon and 5K event that will take place May 13 this year.
“We wanted people to feel like they were guests,” she said, “and everything we do, they are treated like guests.”
“For sure, it’s the community aspect that stands out,” added Gwen Schreiner, another co-founder. “Most races are kind of a business; they’re pretty uniform. We didn’t want to follow their pattern. Liz was adamant about that.”
Now in its eighth year, “Running with the Cows” draws more than 2,500 participants.
“Last year, we had people from 40 states and two to three countries,” Meek said.
It’s certainly not the typical parish fundraiser, but it’s been a rousing success. The event raises upwards of $100,000 each year to help support the parish’s grade school, the seminarian program in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and Catholic Relief Services. Revenue comes from registration fees, sponsored advertising and donations.
Still, raising money isn’t the sole reason, the organizers said.
“What we really want to do is share our faith and our community of believers. I think this is an unusual platform for that. It shows them our faith in action,” said Schreiner.
The idea originated nearly a decade ago when parents began brainstorming about ways to raise funds for the school.
“We wanted to do something that would go outside the community,” explained Meek. “I’m a runner, and I always wanted to do a race out here in a pasture.
“Plus, we wanted the outside community to see what a special community we have. We wanted to showcase it. It is special. We have this little country school with great families in a beautiful area.”
How, then, to draw avid runners to the still-rural surroundings just a few minutes south of the bustling Kansas City metro region?
Across the country “there are about 15 races on any given weekend, so we knew a ‘schtick’ was important,” Schreiner recalled. “We came up with our logo — a cow — who we called Queenie after Queen of the Holy Rosary.”
Encouraging runners to return the next year, however, didn’t require a marketing gimmick. It simply was the warm hospitality.
“Like our buffet afterward,” Meek pointed out. Food vendors from all over Kansas City donate their specialties, and parishioners contribute to what’s become known as a “Taste of Wea.”
“The food is endless,” said Meek. “We feed 5,000. We could not do that without the community. And it’s the whole community, not just parishioners.”
“The food is part of the race; we don’t charge people to eat. It’s just a big church banquet,” she added.
Volunteers come from beyond the parish itself. People from other religious denominations in the Bucyrus area — Wea is small enough that it doesn’t have its own postal code —offer support, as do Catholic high school students and parish youth groups from the region.
Law enforcement and emergency services from both Johnson and Miami counties block off roads and assist as needed.
Holy Rosary’s pastor, Father Gary Pennings, was assigned to the parish last summer and has yet to witness a “Running with the Cows.”
But he’s heard a lot about it, and he’s looking forward to the big day.
“I’ll see all the work that goes into it, how big an undertaking it is,” he said. “It’s a very good charity, a very great cause. We have a wonderful school, and we need all the support we can get.”
He’s been told runners find the event unique, and the fact that he saw someone wearing one of the race’s T-shirts while at an East Coast airport confirmed that claim.
“I’m grateful for all of the runners and all the supporters and all the people planning it,” he said.
Participants can run the half marathon — 13.1 miles — that follows asphalt roads bisecting fields and pastures north of the school. Or they can tackle the 5K — slightly over 3 miles.
New this year is a high-intensity interval workout dubbed the “Udder Grit Challenge.”
The event also is part of the Heartland 39.3 Series — three half marathons staged during a five-week span. The others were Rock the Parkway in Kansas City, Missouri, on April 8, and the Garmin Marathon in Olathe on April 22.
The half marathon begins at 7:30 a.m.; the 5K starts at 8 a.m.; and the challenge is at 8:30 a.m. Online registration for the race is still open, and volunteers can also sign up via the web.
Go to the website at: www.cow.run for more information.