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Sunday, April 16, 2000 -- Hopwood, PA
Mount Summit Challenge
Story and photos by Don Parks

[Details] [Coverage]
Results: [Run OA] [Walk OA] [Run by Class] [Walk by Class]
Pictures: [Set 1] [Set 2] [Set 3] [Set 4] [Set 5] [Set 6] [Set 7] [Set 8]

Walkin' the dog
What's a walk up a mountain between friends?
The Mount Summit Challenge celebrated its 17th year with fantastic 70 degree weather and huge crowds of runners and walkers ready to conquer a mountain. Now, you might ask, why would well over 400 otherwise ordinary people come from all around to trek 3.5 miles up a 1200 foot hill? (If I'm doing my math right, that is an average grade of 6.5%) Well, my guess is two reasons, (1) because they can, and (2) because it is a lot of fun!

It reminds me of what Sir Edmund Hillary once said, "Nobody climbs mountains for scientific reasons. Science is used to raise money for the expeditions, but you really climb for the hell of it." Still, the next question one might ask is, "Whose idea was this, anyway?" The answer is quite a story in itself.

I was told that a good many years back (at least 17, anyway) two accomplished runners, Brent Hawkins and Don Norman, were knocking back a few at a local pub, The Brass Rail. It seems that they began to converse with a few area football players and soon began to debate who was the better "athlete". It seems that Hawkins and Norman began to boast that they could run right from the bar to the top of the Summit.

Yes, some folks really do think this is fun!
There are certainly many definitions of a great athlete, but as the night wore on, and headed into the early morning, it appears words wouldn't settle the dispute. So, other than fisticuffs, how does any man settle a dispute? Why a bet, of course. And this night's wager was that the two runners couldn't race to the Summit in under an hour.

As the legend goes, the two headed out into the night (at least they weren't driving) in a race up the mountain. And, as you might have guessed, they did it in under an hour. In a little bit of friendly competition, Hawkins out ran Norman in their quest for the Summit with a time of 40 minutes to Norman's 42. Regardless of the details, they started a tradition that now attracts hundreds of people to Hopwood, Pennsylvania, each April.

One particular person who seems to keep coming back is Eric Wilkins, from Pittsburgh. Being that he had won the race the last dozen years, he was ready to go for another. For the first mile he battled for the lead with John Kerekes, a high school junior from Latrobe, PA. But, for the final 2.5 miles it was all Wilkins as he went on to win his 13th in a row with a time of 23:25.

Lucky 13 for Eric Wilkins
The race behind Wilkins took a little longer to sort out as Michael McGee and Steve Ritenour chased the two leaders for most of the first mile. As the first mile mark approached, McGee decided it was time to reel in the leaders while Ritenour was content to keep his current pace. Soon McGee had closed the gap on Kerekes, but that was the same time that Wilkins had pulled ahead.

McGee continued to chase the leader and felt strong as he surged past Kerekes. Even with McGee's best effort, Wilkins was not to be denied. The leaders margin was growing instead of shrinking. After the race, the second place McGee (24:37) said, "[Wilkins] looked like he could win this race for another 10 years."

The race for third had Kerekes (25:14) running "neck-and-neck" with Ritenour (25:35) for the third mile before he attacked the final half mile.

3.5 Miles and 1200 feet up...
still lookin' good
The field of women runners was dominated by Tammy Slusser who set a new female course record on her way to a ninth overall finish in 27:30. Not to be outdone by her husband, Gina McGee (30:01) took home second place honors. Hitting the line third was Gretchen Wood with a time of 32:48.

Among the walkers it was Thomas Starkey (36:19) striding up the mountain first followed by Steve Bence (36:32). The first female to ascend to the Summit was Jamie Brooks (39:57) followed by Dawn Mehall (45:16) in second.

Plenty more runners and walkers of all sorts made their way to the top and can be proud of their day's accomplishments. With the great support provided by numerous local volunteers, the generous contributions of all the sponsors, and the hard work done by the Fayette Striders, it's sure to continue in its great tradition.