CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa When Jordan Houdeshell crossed the finish line on Thursday morning, it wasn't his time that had so many people cheering for him though his 28:41 finish was good enough to put him in the top 30 finishers.
Race director Colin Flynn announced over the megaphone a different accomplishment: Houdeshell had become the first person to ever run the Fifth Season Race 8K in a wheelchair.
"One of my biggest fears is not being able to be as active and mobile as I am now," he said. "I love sports, and this is the first time I've ever done something like this. It's awesome."
Houdeshell, who just graduated from Linn-Mar High School, was born with spina bifida, meaning his spine was curved and protruding from his back. He has been in a wheelchair all his life, and started playing competitive sports three years ago.
His dad suggested earlier this week that he try to compete in the Fifth Season. He signed up on Monday, and immediately went out and ran 10 miles to prepare. Then he ran another six on Tuesday. But that brief training stint didn't prepare him for the intensity of a competitive race.
"That's the farthest I've ever gone in that chair," he said. "But the race was a lot harder than I expected it to be. When I went those 10 miles, I didn't take into account that I was running at my own pace. I definitely wasn't running as fast as today."
Houdeshell said his parents have offered to build an elevator from the basement to the main floor so he can get around the house more easily. But he tells them he would rather climb up the stairs every day on his own to help stay active.
That attitude helped him to an impressive performance at the Fifth Season. But his goals coming in to the race were pretty simple.
"I was just looking to finish," he said. "Because this was my first race in my racing chair."
Elly Sang of Coon Rapids, Minn., won the race with a time of 23:59. Sang is part of a team called Duma Runners Club. The team, comprised of runners born in Kenya and Ethiopia, claimed the top four spots in the men's division and second place in the women's.
Club director William Kosgei said Sang ran a "fantastic" race, and said he was surprised that five Duma men runners finished in such a tight pack. Sang's three male teammates all finished within six seconds of his time.
"They weren't able to separate themselves," he said. "It was good for the fans, I think. They could see a closer finish, and that makes it exciting for the people watching."
21-year old Zach Baker of Iowa City was the top local finisher, placing sixth with a time of 24:51. Pasca Cheruixot of Fort Dodge won the women's division at 27:07
Sang said the weather conditions made him confident he would run well.
"I was pretty sure I could win, because I was prepared," he said. "The humidity was not high. Next year I'll be here again and I want to get the course record."
FAMILIAR TRACK BRINGS BIGGER FIELD
One of the day's biggest bright spots was a return to the traditional course, which started and finished at the same spot, in downtown Cedar Rapids. The race saw an increase in participants from the last few years, when construction forced it to an alternative route.
And race director Colin Flynn said having the start and finish line both at Greene Square Park, where people could gather after the race, made for a better atmosphere.
"Keeping everything in one spot makes for a smoother time for everyone," he said. "It was a great day. People were supportive of moving back to the old course."
Brett Stephenson won the 40-and-over Masters Division of the race with a time of 27:42. He said the return to the downtown course, where spectators could line the streets and watch almost the whole race, made it a lot easier to run.
"I liked coming downtown again," he said. "Compared to the alternate course, the crowd downtown along Grand Avenue was awesome. That helps a lot. I have a lot of friends and family on the course. There are some tough stretches, and when you have people hollering your name, that picks you up a little bit."