450 participants wake up early for eighth annual Black Squirrel 5K


Participants start the Black Squirrel 5K outside the Kent State Student Recreation and Wellness Center Saturday, April 14, 2018.

Shelbie Goulding

The Student Wellness and Recreation Center lobby could not have been more crowded Saturday morning, as approximately 450 participants arrived at 7 a.m. to register for their spots in the eighth annual Black Squirrel 5K. 

“This is more of a race for people who focus on fitness and health,” said Greg Bailey, senior assistant director of Recreational Services. “We want it to be a more rewarding race for participants.”

The race offers the top three male and female racers prizes: First place receives $100, second place $75 and third place $50 cash. The top three males and females of individual age groups receive medals for gold, silver and bronze.

The participants warmed up for the race utilizing the Rec’s indoor track while others stretched their limbs. At 7:50 a.m. the crowd pushed its way out the door as they headed to the start line in front of the building.

The loop course started and ended in front of the Rec Center. The course runs through the campus esplanade. “This year will be a little more challenging with the construction on campus,” Bailey said.

With just minutes remaining before 8 a.m., the participants stretched across the start line to begin the 5K. Bailey explained the course to the racers and began the countdown to 8 a.m. “Ready, set, go!” A siren wailed, and the racers were off.

“We want the awards ceremony to be for everyone,” Bailey said. “We like to focus on everyone because they’re challenging themselves.” He said the staff wants to honor those who wake up and compete in fitness-oriented competitions. The staff stayed by the finish line until the last person finished the race so that everyone feels appreciated.

In a matter of 16 minutes and 51 seconds, 24-year-old Ethan Widder crossed the finish line as the first-place male. “I’m surprised I got first, honestly,” Widder said. He said he ran the 5K last year, but it was hillier than he expected. “This year I had a strategy to sprint down the hills.” Widder has raced in 5Ks for the past 10 years and plans to return to the Black Squirrel 5K when he can.

Soon, more racers began to sporadically cross the finish line. They placed their hands above their heads and took deep, consistent breaths. Water was provided at the finish line.

Rachel Slingluff, 24, crossed the finish line at 18 minutes and 39 seconds as the first-place female. “I wasn’t expecting to win, so I’m pretty happy,” she said. “I’m training for a half marathon in a couple of weeks, so this was great practice.” 

Slingluff and Widder were both on the Kent State track team last year, and Slingluff said she’d do the race again in a heartbeat. 

“I would definitely do this again because I don’t have meets in the way,” she said. “It was fun.”

Shelbie Goulding is the recreation and fitness reporter. Contact her at [email protected].