By Ryan Kaczmarski
For 20 years now, the Classic at Mastick 5K has been run by kids and adults alike for fun and competition.
Former North Olmsted High School athlete and current Avon Lake fireman John Nakel has been in charge of the event, held at the Mastick Woods picnic area in the Cleveland Metroparks Rocky River Reservation last Wednesday, for the past 15 years.
“Every year the event seems to run smoother and smoother and gets bigger and bigger,” Nakel said.
The event keeps getting bigger, even though the Metroparks has given Nakel a cutoff point for entries.
“This year I had to turn at least 50 to 75 people away,” he said. “I cut it off right at the registration deadline and I’ve never had a problem going over the registration limit before the deadline – which was eight days before the race.”
The race had almost 600 participants – the runners were evenly divided between male and female – and there were about 265 finishers from each of the races (male and female).
On the 20th anniversary of the race, Nakel reflected on the event’s humble beginnings, not ever thinking it could reach this level of popularity.
“Every year, I’m approached by a new school or program, because they know what we have to offer, and more and more people want to get involved,” Nakel said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have these problems (of too many participants), and it’s a good problem to have.
“Back when (former North Olmsted cross country coach) Ken Neuzil started the race, we only had around 200 runners and when I took it over, we were around 400,” he continued. “The following year it was over 500, and we’ve been hovering around there ever since.”
The proceeds from the race, along with sponsor donations, support the Mastick College Scholarship Fund, and the flagship sponsor over the last few years has been First Federal Lakewood bank, contributing both monetarily and with manpower.
“We take pride in supporting local events and charities in the communities we serve, and this is our ninth consecutive year being the lead sponsor of the Classic at Mastick,” Gary R. Fix, president and CEO of First Federal Lakewood, said. “Last year we awarded $7,500 in scholarships to 15 student athletes, and this year we committed to increasing the scholarship amounts from $500 to $600 per individual.
“This race has become a great summertime tradition at First Federal Lakewood, and we feel fortunate to have built a strong relationship with race director (Nakel) who deserves a lot of credit for organizing a very successful event.”
Many of the Westshore high school cross country teams run in the annual event to gauge how their runners trained over the summer and to see where each athlete fits into the team.
“It’s kind of the barometer for the beginning of the season,” Fairview head coach Andy Slack said. “You see where the kids are at, and what they still need to work on. You look at their form and their stamina over the 5K course.”
“The event is incredible, because it brings together so many high school runners, and runners of all aspects of life as well,” Magnificat head coach Anjanette Arabian Whitman said. “We are all appreciative of how well (Nakel) conducts this event.”
While some use the race to see how the varsity team will stack up, the Bay boys team just uses the event as a “fun-run.”
“We have a training camp down at Mohican Wilderness Campground, and we just got back,” Bay head coach Steven Babson said. “If they can do well (here) after the tough workouts we had over the last few days, then I know where those individuals are. But as a barometer for our team, I don’t put much stock in the race.”
The ultimate gesture of making this event a fun run is the group known as the “Couch Potatoes,” who use the race to promote moderate fitness recovery. They are seen running in the back of the pack of the men’s race wearing costumes and just having a good time.
“We’re not very fast, but we get out there and we finish (the race) and that’s what we are all about,” Jim Sassak, Couch Potato Lodge member, said. “The fact is that every time we finish a race, we win. The point of any sport or activity is to have fun, and we’re having a riot out there.”