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Record crowd runs Straw Fest race

Posted 14 June 2014 at 12:00 am

Photos by Sue Cook – The starting gun fired and people burst off the starting line near the corner of East State and Main streets.

By Sue Cook, staff reporter

ALBION – A record crowd of 296 runners lined up for the 24th Annual Albion Strawberry Festival 5k/8k Race. The cool, overcast weather didn’t keep away a large crowd of onlookers and supporters.

The race is organized by the Albion Running Club and proceeds from the event are shared with local charities and non-profits, including the community kitchen at Christ Church, a mission trip, Care Net of Greater Orleans and Hospice of Orleans.

The race has jumped from about 200 participants two years ago to nearly 300 today.

“We’re always surprised and excited with the support that we see from runners in the area,” said race organizer, Brian Krieger. “It’s great to see a lot of people that have worked on getting their bodies more fit. We’ve got a lot of new beginner runners and a lot of people over 70.”

Sheila Lemcke, this year’s strawberry runner, jogs backward and calls out to people to beat her to the finish. She tried to finish in the middle of the pack – about 29 minutes for the 5k – and people who finished ahead of her won a prize.

As is tradition with the race, one runner is dressed as a strawberry. Other runners are challenged to beat the strawberry’s time. This year, Sheila Lemcke was chosen to be the strawberry after race organizers read about her “Albion woman loses 100-plus pounds with lifestyle change” on the Orleans Hub. Lemcke lost more than 100 pounds through fitness and nutrition. She continues to run for health with excellent times in many races.

“I was trying to finish in half the pack to help motivate those that needed a little motivation,” Lemcke said. “I’ve always been trying to increase my speed and go faster. This time I was able to slow down and enjoy and talk to some of the runners. I hope more will join us next year.”

The race honored the memory of Wayne Burlison and Judy Christopher.

Race organizers honored two people who were influential in the Albion running community. Judy Christopher, former owner of Phoenix Fitness, organized the race for about two decades.

Christopher died from cancer at age 70 on Aug. 3, 2013. Her husband Gene volunteered at the mile 3 marker today, calling out times for the runners. Judy and Gene’s son David Cristofaro completed the course, pushing a jogger stroller.

Several runners removed their shoes for the last section of the race to honor Wayne Burlison, who helped start a running club and “Run for God” program in Albion.

Burlison enjoyed running barefoot. He died from cancer on March 26 at age 36.

Burlison’s wife Lisa ran the race in her husband’s memory today. Several runners also wore “Run for Wayne” shirts.

Wayne Burlison’s wife Lisa Burlison and her son, Adam, both remembered Wayne this morning. Lisa wrote “Wayne” on her inner arm and “Hope” on her leg. She also wore her husband’s orange compression socks.

“Wayne was a very humble person and wouldn’t have expected any of this,” Mrs. Burlison said. “He ran for his health and because he could spread the Word of God and set forth that example.”

She said that Wayne’s message was “living your life for God and taking care of your body, and spreading that love and that care for each other just being a part of a community, and that we’re in this together. Wayne was a huge encourager for everybody. It’s just a huge blessing to see all these people reach out and remember him.”

Some of the runners, including Greg Staines at left and elementary school principal Rachel Curtin, removed their shoes to honor Wayne Burlison.

Mark Hyrvniak, a physical education teacher at Albion High School, was the first to cross the finish line. Hyrvniak said he tries to encourage students to participate in the race.

“We always try to get as many runners as we can to get out here and support the community,” he said. “This is a great race. I’m glad everyone came out for Wayne. He was a teacher that passed away this past spring. I think it was motivation for a lot of runners in the community to get moving and run for him.”

Mark Hryvniak, one of the track and cross country coaches at Albion High School, finishes ahead of everyone else with a time of 16:36.

Kimberly Mills was the first female to finish in a time of 19:07. In the 8k, Chad Byler of Rochester won the men’s division with a time of 26:57. Trisha Byler of Rochester led the women in a time of 30:43.

To see the list of runners’ times from the race, click here.