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Sawdust 5K adds 'Jimmer' event; 1-Miler renamed

Runners leave the starting line at Pinehurst Park in Cloquet for the annual Fourth of July Sawdust 5K. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal1 / 4
Andy Prevost and Kristi Prevost Vork finish the 2018 Sawdust 5K in tribute to their late mother, LaVonna Prevost. The Sawdust 1-mile race that kicks off the Fourth of July parade is now known as the LaVonna 1-Miler. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal2 / 4
Duluthian Mackenzie Carlson won the women's division of the annual Sawdust 5K. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal3 / 4
Duluthian David Hyopponen won the men's division of the annual Sawdust 5K. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal4 / 4

The threat of thunderstorms didn't deter local runners on the Fourth of July who participated in the 8th Annual Sawdust 5K at Pinehurst Park in Cloquet.

For the first time, the 5K included the Jimmer Challenge, where about 75 runners completed a 5K and then turned around and ran the course in the other direction in honor of Jim Hagerl, who died in April from an aggressive form of brain cancer.

"Jimmer was a volunteer, participant and avid supporter of the Cloquet Sawdust 5K," race director Jeff Leno said. "Jimmer was a friend of mine and also a member of our local running club here in Cloquet called the Milltown Milers. He and I ran hundreds of miles together over the years and formed a strong and intimate bond while training for marathons."

That strong bond led to the Jimmer Challenge.

"Jimmer was the type of person who entered a room and had the ability to quickly draw everybody's attention," Leno said. "He was such a positive energy of encouragement to the the other runners, whether he knew them or not. If he was at a race in the Arrowhead region, you could be sure that he would have a crowd of people around him prior to the race and entertaining them with running stories and running advice.

"It is such a phenomenal feeling to honor such a phenomenal person," he said.

This year, the Sawdust 5K featured 365 runners which, according to Leno, "is on par" with recent years. The annual Fourth of July race has become quite the local event, replete with runners flocking to the Pinehurst Park area, rock music pulsing over the public address system and a giant inflatable finish line arch through which runners pass as they finish the race.

Following the Sawdust 5K, runners headed to the newly named LaVonna 1-Miler in downtown Cloquet. The 1-mile race has been a staple prior to the Fourth of July parade in downtown Cloquet. Runners race down Cloquet Avenue from East to West to the finish line on the corner of Cloquet Avenue and 11th Street.

The 1-mile race was renamed this year in honor of LaVonna Prevost, who was killed in a car-pedestrian accident in the past year.

"Unfortunately, we tragically lost LaVonna this past fall," Leno said. "My instant thought was we are never going to have the opportunity to see LaVonna's iconic white hair and welcoming smile to grace the streets of Cloquet during her long walks. To me, naming the one mile race after her felt like just the right thing to do. LaVonna had always participated in the Sawdust 5K and 1-Miler."

The LaVonna 1-Miler featured a wide range of ages of runners, but the main emphasis is the event is meant to be fun and to get people to participate in running. Runners were treated to a cheering throng of people who had lined Cloquet avenue for the annual parade. Among the runners were Prevost's children, Andy and Kristi, who ran in honor of their late mother.

The only downside of the morning came when a storm reared its ugly head in the middle of the Sawdust 5K awards ceremony, causing people to scatter and head for their vehicles.

"We were watching the weather closely throughout the week," Lenom said. "When it was all said and done, the weather didn't interfere with the actual race."

Amazingly, Mother Nature's timing couldn't have been much better July 4. The rain arrived after the 5K at about 9:30 a.m. and then moved out of the area at 10:20 a.m., just a few minutes before the LaVonna 1-Miler began.

The Sawdust 5K has now become a staple in the events of Cloquet's 4th of July celebration and in a matter of eight years the event draws interest from all across the northland.

"It is crazy, it feels like yesterday we were at the park for the first time with my heart racing a million miles an hour wondering if anyone was going to show up for that first race," Leno said. "I just can't believe how quickly this has become a Cloquet Fourth of July tradition. I want to thank the runners, volunteers and sponsors who make the race possible. We have tremendous support from our local business community."