For the second year in a row, a group of 12 Faribault cross country alumni teamed together to compete in the Reebok Ragnar Minnesota run. The event is a running relay Aug. 16-17 with a new course starting in St. Paul and trekking 200 miles northeast to Duluth.
There’s more to it than just a dozen old friends reconvening.
They’re running in honor of Steve Bongers, the late brother of Faribault High School boys cross country and girls track and field head coach, Mark Bongers.
Mark Bongers made his way to an exchange point in Stillwater to cheer on the team. He was uplifted by Team Steve, and Team Steve was uplifted by him.
It was one of the big highlights for runner Jeri Simons.
“The whole experience really felt complete with him there since he was such a big part of all of our running careers,” Simons said. “You could just tell how happy it made him to see us all still bonding over our mutual love for running.
Steve’s name not only adorns the team’s shirts, but lives on in a lighthearted way.
“Awhile back, the (cross country) team named a decoy coyote ‘Steve’ and designated it the unofficial team mascot and passed it down to the new boys’ captains each year to bring along with to meets,” Simons said. “Not many people still on the team are aware of the significance of the coyote’s name, but I know it meant the world to our coach that the 12 of us ran 200 miles with that name on our backs.”
Legging it out
Each team competing in the Ragnar features either six or 12 runners running three separate legs of the course. Each leg is rated easy, moderate, hard or very hard and a runners’ total miles can vary from roughly 11 to 21.
The course offers views of several lakes, jaunts through small towns and winds along the St. Croix River. The new course is more shaded and paved and offered van support along the way.
While this was the second year for Team Steve, the 12 runners changed slightly.
This year’s crew was composed of Julian (Buck) Meehl, Jeri Simons, Anthony Simons, Lauren Moll, Sophie Kohl, Ryan Leppert, Adaum Tuma, Chris Lane, Ryan Mullenex, Gunnar Miller, Travis Wegner and Emily Skjeveland.
“The whole thing was Ryan Mullennex’s idea last year and we had so much fun the first time we wanted to do it again,” Jeri Simons said. “We actually had 10 of the exact same people do it from last year’s team, but two people on our team switched out this summer due to people moving away for jobs. That’s the reality for all of us — that we’ll move away or get jobs and not be able to do this eventually — but I hope that the tradition we started continues and that there will always be 12 Faribault CC alumni that want to do this race in the years to come.
“The fact that we all came together to do this two, three, four years out of high school really highlights one of the best parts of running. It can be a sport that continues long after high school and can even be a lifelong pastime, especially when you share that passion with friends.”
The run began Aug. 16 and went into the night, wrapping up the next morning.
Team Steve finished in 28 hours, 50 minutes and 35 seconds for an 8:40 average mile. That was good for 26th place out of 388 teams.
“They self-organized, put up the entry fee, worked out the challenging logistics and raced very well as a team,” said Dave Simons, a former FHS cross country parent. “They also happen to have a lot of fun together along the way. I think it’s a testament to the coaches and mentors they’ve had along the way, including Mark Bongers, Willie Clapp, James Wolf, Janet Smith and Julie Meier.”
Dave Simons credited these coaches for instilling a love of running and team camaraderie. The coaches back up what they preach as all are lifelong runners.
“Mark, in particular, is unbelievable,” Simons continued. “His energy, enthusiasm, and commitment to helping others learn, grow, and succeed are seemingly boundless.”