I'll never tire of seeing a hard worker knock off athletes with superior genetics.
At Saturday's K-9 Klassic 5K, Armani the Yorkshire terrier gutted out a win over a field that included greyhounds, huskies and several German shepherds as he heroically matched the pace of a gifted seventh-grade girl named Jaiden Eastom.
No official time was kept; the fourth annual SPCA fundraiser, held this year at the University of Saint Francis, was just for fun.
Neither Eastom – the winner of this year's Fort Wayne Community Schools middle school cross country meet – nor the duo who pushed her right up til the end, longtime local distance star Doug Sundling and his husky mix Ginger, could tell where the finish line was.
“Somebody told me it was around 20 minutes,” Eastom said afterward, as she lay gasping on the ground near where she finally came to a stop while Armani basked in the limelight.
If that's legit, it would place the Blackhawk Middle Schooler in the top half of the finishers at last fall's girls state high school cross country meet.
Sundling, who now that he's over 60 runs just for fun and exercise and to keep Ginger happy, chuckled as he described the challenges Eastom overcame in racing with such an excitable partner: “He kept running behind her and getting tangled up in her legs.”
“At one point he wrapped himself around a light pole,” Eastom added later, after she recovered. “It was bad. But he still did it!”
Armani runs 3-5 miles several times a week with owner Shellie Love, Eastom's grandma, but typically at a much slower pace.
“He loves to run,” said Love, though before the race she wondered if Eastom should've been paired with Drake, the family's German shepherd, instead. Besides being faster, Drake is an older, more experienced runner who's accompanied Love on runs of up to 10 miles.
Armani, at just 18 months old, “is still learning,” Love said.
But this was Armani's day. Drake – who lost some time lapping up water at an aid station that neither of the lead dogs bothered to stop at on such a cool morning – finished fourth, along with Eastom's uncle, 18-year-old Zachary Love.
Still, Drake seemed more excited than disappointed about how the event played out.
“This is really great for Drake,” said Shellie Love. “I like to socialize him.”
Most of the nearly 200 dogs who completed the two-loop course walked with their owners. Though 9-year-old Wendy the greyhound was once capable of speeds up to 40 mph in her racing days as a sprinter in Daytona, she doesn't care for distance running, said her owner Todd Stouder. They took their time, enjoying the company of the other dogs and their owners.
D-bo the great dane outweighed his walking companion, a Shih Zhu-Mountain Feist named Serena, by more than 100 pounds. Their owners, Lynette Myers and Dottie Haas, said they were on a mother-daughter outing.
“It's a fun event and a good cause,” said Haas, who owns Serena but frequently dog sits for D-bo.
The most unlikely duo in the event, however, had to be Brad the English Mastiff and Duke the mini dachshund. If they'd been wearing doggie pedometers, Duke's would've surely registered a dozen steps for every one of Brad's – though Duke was occasionally carried by his owner, Coleen Van Zile of Auburn.
“These two knew each other as puppies,” said Matthew Malott, Zile's son, as Brad and Duke lapped up water at an aid station. “Heck, at one point they were pretty much the same size.”
At a bulky 6-foot-4, Malott was the only member of their group capable of handling Brad in such a large crowd.
“He's the best dog ever,” insisted Brad's owner and Malott's boss, Dawn Bowers of Kendallville. “He's the biggest baby in the world.”
Still, she knew if Brad got excited, she couldn't do much to stop the muscular mastiff from dragging her along by the leash.
Though Malott had his hands full early on, Brad was much more relaxed on the second lap.
“I think he's falling asleep,” Malott said as they neared the finish line. “His eyes are half closed. Now I'm the one trying to pull him along.”
Tanya Isch Caylor blogs about postfat living at www.90in9.wordpress.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is the personal view of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.