Sports trends come and go. In the 1970s, running became all the rage after American athlete Frank Shorter won the Olympic marathon in 1972, and Jim Fixx published The Complete Book of Running in 1977. At the height of the running craze, towns all across the country began hosting races, and people flocked to compete in them. Muscatine proved no different, and the Muscatine Running Club (MRC), with the help of Kerry Gannon, created the Watermelon Stampede race to coincide with the annual Great River Days Festival. As times changed, many cities stopped holding their races and turned their attention to other things. However, the Watermelon Stampede endured. Now in its forty-first year, the Watermelon Stampede looks forward to continuing its long reign as the athletic event with the most local participants in Muscatine.
For the past thirty-two years, Dell Wagner has kept the Watermelon Stampede on course as its race director. Wagner first became interested in the Watermelon Stampede in 1982 after he took up running as a way to stay fit. A novice runner with more enthusiasm than experience, Wagner developed shin splints shortly before the Watermelon Stampede started. At the last minute, he asked if he could work as a race volunteer instead of running. One of the race’s organizers found him a spot at a water stop, and his career volunteering with the race began. Several years later, the previous race director retired and recommended Wagner for the spot. He accepted the position, and though he has never run a Watermelon Stampede himself, he has worked as its race director ever since.
Today, Wagner ensures that the Watermelon Stampede continues to provide a fun and competitive event for runners throughout Muscatine at all levels. For children, the Kids Watermelon Stampede will take place at the Muscatine High School track on Friday, August 16th. A short distance event designed for preschoolers through twelve-year-olds, the Kids Watermelon Stampede features participation ribbons and t-shirts for all runners, as well as competitive awards for kids seven and up.
Teen and adult participants can choose to run either the 5K or 10K Watermelon Stampede on Saturday, August 17th. The first 400 participants will get a t-shirt, and thirty runners will get selected at random to receive a free watermelon. New this year, the winner of each of the Watermelon Stampede’s different divisions will receive a free watermelon as well. “We try to come up with creative ways to encourage people to come,” explained Wagner.
With this year’s Watermelon Stampede just days away, interested runners still have time to register, either by visiting http://www.machlink.com/~muscatinerunningclub/, or by signing up the day of the race. Wagner emphasizes that cross country and track runners at all levels (junior high, high school, and college) can register for half price, and that anyone collecting Grand Prix points through the Muscatine Running Club can earn them in this race.
As this year’s Watermelon Stampede approaches, Wagner looks forward to seeing new and old participants (including two who have run it every year, John Beckey and Steve Taylor), and welcoming you to one of Muscatine’s most enduring and popular athletic events.