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Run blossoms brightly

Inaugural event draws 200 runners

— The idea of running among blooming fruit trees with snow-covered mountains in the distance came to fruition Saturday with the inaugural Omak Orchards in Bloom half marathon and 10K races.

“We advertised the race as a rural race with 360 views of mountains, meandering through orchards in bloom with a warm community spirit,” organizer Nancy Nash-Mendez said. “Our participants were able to experience all of our promises.”

“It went very good, very smooth,” said race timer Mark Milner of the 200 runners that competed in the first-time race.

The timing system and chips were provided by the Warrior Stampede, which helped organizers concentrate on other aspects of the race, Milner said. The annual event follows a week after the Omak Stampede rodeo in August.

“It’s quite an asset to use a chip timing system,” he said. “It’s the most accurate way to time a race. It made it very smooth, less hectic and added an element of professional quality.

“Nancy did a very good job to get 200 people out. She did a remarkable job. It was an awesome route with absolutely beautiful weather. The blossoms were out and you had snowcapped mountains to look at.”

The race started and finished at RockWall Cellars, 110 Nichols Road.

“We were a little nervous with all the rain we got last week, but on race day our big, bright blue sky opened up to welcome our guests who came from all over the place,” Nash-Mendez said.

Runners came from as far away as Holland and Ohio, as well as Idaho, Colorado, Oregon, Montana and British Columbia.

She credited the large, international event to heavy marketing, as well as posting on every major running website.

“Normally to pull off an event like this takes about two years of planning,” Nash-Mendez said. “We did it in less than six months, thanks to the monumental community support.

“The Omak Fit 4 Life Coalition members (Omak School District/Xtreme Challenge, WorkSource, Confluence Health, Mid Valley Hospital, City of Omak and Omak Chamber of Commerce) spent hundreds of hours recruiting volunteers in the community to make the event happen and community members rose up to the occasion.”

There is a video of the race on YouTube.com (792 views in two days).

“We believe this event has the potential of putting Omak as a destination race in years to come,” Nash-Mendez said. “Our first year success is a nice stepping stone that will allow us to offer an even better and larger event next year.”

There were many fun stories surrounding the races, with perhaps the most heart-tugging being friends and relatives supporting Ryan Diemert, who was flown to the race from Colorado Springs, Colo.

Diemert, 19, is the son of Crista Hill, who used to live in Omak. He was diagnosed last year with Dystonia, a neurological movement disorder. He was fitted with a transmitter in December to stop convulsions.

“He did not realize we were running for him,” aunt Jennifer Short said. “We wanted to surprise him and bring awareness to Dystonia.”

Florence Thornton, 92, of Oroville, not only surprised family members by competing in the 10K, but also sticking to her guns of finishing under two hours.

Thornton finished in an hour, 52 minutes, 46.7 seconds.

Her sons, Bruce and Bob, also competed.

“She has not run as much the last few years,” Bruce Thornton said of his mother, who used to compete in area runs each year. “She has walked in a one-mile race the last couple years, but nothing longer than that.”

A few weeks ago, she walked two miles with a friend, Melissa Kunz of Oroville, who said Thornton appeared fit enough to do 6.2 miles.

“They stayed together the whole way; that helped both of them,” Bruce Thornton said. “I walked with her the last mile. I told her she could slow down and still make it under two hours.”

His mother did not slow down, staying focused to make her goal.

“She went home and took a nap, and said she felt great,” her son said. “At least this race helped me get in shape a little bit earlier this year than usual.”

Orchardist Michael Azzano designed a logo used on T-shirts and medals plus created a sign for the race.

“It is very unique that an orchardist made the commemorative shirts for the participants,” Nash-Mendez said.

Medals were handed out Omak Mayor Cindy Gagne, Okanogan Mayor Jon Culp, County Commissioner Sheilah Kennedy and Omak Stampede Queen Tiffany Manniko.

“The little detail touches that we added to the event is what people really enjoyed,” Nash-Mendez said. “Of course, the miles were conquered more easily by participants knowing that at the end there was a few drops of wine to be tasted.

Awards include RockWall Cellars wine for first place in 21-and-over age groups. Trophies went to first place for those in under age 21 age groups, and ribbons went to first through third placers.

Half marathon overall: 1, Jeremiah Smith, 32, Seattle, 1:32:21.4. 2, Trevor Jezierski, 33, Edmonds, 1:33:17.7. 3, Tim Pecha, 51, Omak, 1:34.47.5. 4, Troy Robeck, 31, Okanogan, 1:34:59.8. 5, Stacey LaDoux, 43, Omak, 1:38:17.3.

10K overall: 1, Karrie Davis, 37, Omak, 49:27.4. 2, Dammes Ros, 50, Tonasket, 50:14.6. 3, Delcie Peters, 23, Tonasket, 51:01.5. 4, Paul Sellars, 40, Des Moines, 51;38.5. 5, Betsy Lynch, 49, Spokane, 51:57.9.

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