"The Human Race" is run on ordinary roads by ordinary people, many of whom just happen to achieve extraordinary things.
Five years ago, the Humansville Board of Education and administration considered eliminating both the high school track and cross country programs, due to a lack of participation and generally poor performances by what few athletes participated. Instead, the school hired Brian Winckler, a former collegiate runner at Southwest Baptist University, as the new running coach.
In just four years, Winckler has revitalized the program at Humansville. His boys team placed fourth at the Class 1 state cross country meet in his third year at the helm. The girls not only grew enough to field a complete cross country team, but they have placed as high as ninth at state in that short time period.
In track and field, the Tigers have placed second at districts all four years under Winckler's guidance, and the boys and girls together have earned a staggering 36 state medals in track.
Winckler is one of those glass-always-full guys that doesn't believe in ceilings. He is determined to make sure his runners receive the best training possible, even if it comes from outside sources. He has allied with fellow SBU alum and current Jasper High School coach Austin Bunn to sponsor a group of area runners from Humansville, Jasper, Buffalo and Joplin to a camp at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs in late July. The camp itself is free, all Winckler and Bunn need for their charges is travel and expense money.
That idea spawned "The Human Race."
On Saturday, June 2, 27 runners toed the starting line in Humansville for "The Human Race," a 5K road race to benefit the camp adventure. Winckler tirelessly worked area businesses for sponsors, awards, aid station refreshments and helpers.
As race day loomed, one obvious problem emerged: Winckler's race was pitted against the Cox Medical Mile races in Springfield, the annual kickoff to the Springfield-area road racing season. Would anyone actually come to Humansville with such a prestigious slate of races in the Queen City?
Yes, they would, and they did.
Runners from Republic, Carthage, Bolivar, Weaubleau, Stockton, Buffalo, Walnut Grove and Cassville joined the host runners from Humansville for the race.
Republic's Ryan Way held off Humansville's all-stater Dakota Shoemaker to win, 16:47 to 16:51. Coach Bunn placed third overall and first in the men's 20-29 division with his 17:02.
Lullel Hickman, of Walnut Grove, just two months shy of his 50th birthday and a Missouri state age-group record holder, finished sixth overall and won the Master's Division in 18:38.
I won the Men's 50-59 division just by showing up -- I was the oldest runner there. I ran a decent time for me -- 20:31 -- and finished 12th overall. I salvaged some honor by beating all the female runners, including all-stater Arnica Zitting, from Stockton, the overall female champion on Saturday.
But the best part of the race was participating in an event where proceeds will go directly to benefit kids from our area. There are bigger races and bigger awards almost every weekend in the state of Missouri, but none that carry more significance than Winckler's brainchild.
Look for more races in Humansville, with more runners, more support team members, more demand for local gas stations and restaurants. A guy like Brian Winckler could end up improving the economy, not just the local school's running teams. What's not to like about that?