As it was for many others who participated, Thursday’s 38th Annual Firecracker Mile was a family affair for 61-year-old John Ezell.
The Green Ridge resident, along with wife Laura and family that includes grandkids, trotted the Missouri State Fairgrounds path together. John says his first Firecracker was 2001, prompted by a healthier lifestyle.
“When I turned 40 and quit smoking, I found all this extra energy and oxygen, and that’s about the same time I started running,” Ezell said. “As a freshman runner for lack of a better word, this was a perfect place to start. It’s only a mile -- you can walk it if you have to -- and just an awesome deal.”
This year marked just the second time Laura had participated, coinciding with the largest gathering for the family to run yet. She calls herself “a walker, not a runner,” but got talked into taking part again with everyone else taking part.
“If you can’t be inspired by that, you’re just hard to reach,” John said with a smile.
Ezell’s relationship with the event is pretty inspirational, too. Just several years after running his first Firecracker in Sedalia, he helped arrange one in Iraq. Stationed at the Kirkuk Air Base as a crew chief and engine mechanic working with the A-10s to provide close air support for army troops on the ground, Ezell reached back home to put together something that would lift spirits.
“We were looking for something to build morale while we were over there with the Fourth of July coming up,” Ezell said. “We sat around and said, ‘Back home, we always run the Firecracker Mile, let’s do it [here].’ We started brainstorming stuff and wondered if the Democrat would sponsor it or be interested, and of course they were. We laid out our course, ran the mile, then we sent all our times and placements back and they sent us t-shirts to hand out, awards, trophies and stuff. It was an awesome deal. We all had such a great time.”
Ezell was there for six months, and additionally was deployed to Afghanistan several times. He retired in 2011, but his unit is still deploying overseas almost two decades later.
Emotions overcame Ezell when asked if the Firecracker’s he’s taken part in since have made him harken back to that one overseas in 2004.
“Yeah it is [something I think about],” Ezell said. “The brotherhood that goes along with serving like that, you just can’t get those guys out of your mind. You think about them all the time.”
Initially, he said he couldn’t place one since then over another, but corrected himself.
“A couple years ago, my grandson ran the Novice race with me and held my hand throughout the whole race,” Ezell said. “That’s going to stick with me for a long time. Every time we started slowing down, I’d look down at him, or he’d look up at me and we’d keep going. That was great.”
With so many memories associated with the event, it doesn’t seem like the husband and wife will be done taking part in the Mile anytime soon.
“We even postponed our vacation so we could be here,” Laura said.
And, of course, it continues to be good exercise for John.
“I do a little jogging [to prepare]. I live out in the country, so I’ll jog down the road three or four miles. I don’t want to overdo it because I’m old,” he said with a laugh.
Graham Hudelson (5:06) was tops in the Firecracker’s Open Mile run, with Kaslyn Gail (6:36) posting the best female time. Seven others came in with sub-6:00 times: Will Hooten, Chance Johnson, Joshua Sturgill, Brad Page, Jose Ojeda, Ben Derbyshire and Tyler Shephard.
Travis Dowler and Emma Lane were tops in the Novice run. Dowler finished in seven minutes, 18 seconds, while Lane finished with a time of 7:32.2, just four-tenths of a second ahead of third-place finisher Kennedi Ditzfeld.
Clay Pilliard (5:42) and Autumn Nold (6:07) were best among the 14U group. They were followed by Jaben Jennings, Tyrus Ollison and Autumn Nold, who rounded out the top five and all came in with times under seven minutes.
Bobby, Christine, Joshua, Adelaide, Leandra and Gretchen Sturgill (18:37) were the best of the family teams, for which the total of the three fastest times among them were used.