Animal Run participants flock to Hickman

Hickman, Neb. – Hickman Animal Run participants round the final leg of the run that earned about $7,000 for Special Olympics.

Story and Photos by Nicole Konen, NewsNetNebraska

Two weeks ago, the winter’s most powerful snowstorm forced the 29th Annual Voice News Animal Run in Hickman, Neb., to be cancelled.

Last Saturday though, the rescheduled event went off without a hitch. A record-setting 375 participants didn’t hesitate to run in single digit temperatures.

A lot of people are confused by the name of the run, but Linda Bryant, publicist for Voice News newspaper, said, “You can bring any pet you want. If you can get your cat on a leash, go for it. A lot of people bring dogs, but if you have a lama, bring a lama.” Most people at the race ran solo, but two-dozen or so brought a dog to run along with.

Runners after the award ceremony.

Running with a twist

“We’ve only had to cancel the five mile race once (in 29 years),” Bryant said. Last week’s postponement was the second time. That extra week allowed 75 more animal enthusiasts to enter and about $2,000 more to be donated to Special Olympics, this year’s charity beneficiary of the race.

Bryant said people come from all over the Midwest just to participate in the Animal Run. A few of them have run every race since 1983. “Twenty-one years ago, I was pregnant (at the race) and had my baby the next day,” Bryant said.

She explained that 30 years ago, it wasn’t commonplace to see runners do a thing like race in the cold without a shirt on. Some Hickman residents called those racing extremists “animals,” hence the name Animal Run. Some people, said Bryant, were confused and showed up with their dogs. So, the tradition just stuck.

This year, the race began and finished in downtown Hickman in a cul-de-sac nestled between the tavern and the American Legion building.

As entrants rounded the last bend, various Hickmanites cheered them on. A stout man in a fur trapper hat, camo jacket and full beard operated the shot clock as runners crossed the finish.

One man ran shirtless. One cartwheeled across the finish line. Some walked. Everyone had ice on their face by the end and a few men had icicles hanging from their mustaches.

Racing enthusiasts dedicated to Hickman, charity

The extreme weather may not have daunted the runners, but it has taken a toll in the past: “There has been a big contingent of runners from the sheriff’s department, and once, one of them got frostbite,” Bryant said.

Frostbite is a concern of the Animal Run, but a more serious health concern inspired the first race. A girl with a brain tumor needed money for an operation, “(So) we thought we’d help raise money for the surgery,” said Bryant, “and since then we’ve raised money for everything from the aquatic center to individuals who have had fires. A couple years ago it was Shriners.” She added that it’s also a great event to help draw customers to local businesses that struggle in winter months.

Tom Haug ran the five-mile run with a time of 48:17.

It seemed to be working. A woman outside the grocery store with no shortage of customers wore an easel sign with the words “Got Cookies?” on it to draw attention to her cookies. The local tavern was full of post-race patrons. Even the awards for the runners included gift cards to local businesses.

The gift giving came full circle though when the “animals” gathered in the American Legion building for hot cocoa and bagels. Dogs sat patiently on the hardwood floors, occasionally barking through the awards ceremony.

Debbie Crippen, the coach for the Firth, Neb. Special Olympics concluded the event. She thanked everyone for attending before noting that the race everyone had just experienced is a perfect reminder of how important athleticism is to the physical and social well-being of Special Olympic participants.