Monday, September 03, 2001

Cheetah Run helps families bond

Morning race through zoo attracts 500, helps foster preservation

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The cheetahs' record for land speed was never in doubt, as was the early-morning sunshine and good family fun that once again marked the annual Cheetah Run at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.

        About 500 adults and children used the 2.5-mile run around the zoo grounds as a chance to connect with the animals, but for many, the best aspect was the the chance to connect with each other.

        “The best part was, I think, running it together,” said Steve Dressing, 45, of Springdale, joined by his 12-year-old son, Michael. “Just a father-and-son kind of thing.”

        The race and children's Fun Run, which drew 100 kids, took place before the zoo was opened to the public. The event was sponsored by Hillshire Farm and Kahn's; a portion of the proceeds is donated to cheetah preservation.

        The cheetah is the fastest land animal on Earth, able to go from zero to 60 mph in just 3.4 seconds. They can reach speeds up to 70 mph and can cover more than 20 feet with one stride.

        Most of the participants Sunday took a more leisurely approach.

        Race coordinator Don Connolly said the race has been held annually for 20 to 25 years.

        After the race, Anna Wassel, 4, of Loveland, seemed to be walking on air, but she could just as easily have been contributing to her triathlon training of her father. She got a ride on his shoulders.

        Bob Wassel, 40, is running his first triathlon next week in Akron.

        “We go biking together, so it's a good family event,” said Mr. Wassel, joined Sunday by Anna, wife Roberta, sons Bobby, 9, Thomas, 8; and another daughter, Eileen, 1.

        The family got up at 5:30 a.m.

        “Then (after the race) we stopped by to see the manatees,” Mr. Wassel said.

        “And it's only 9:30,” Mrs. Wassel added with a smile.

        Because the event dovetails into the Labor Day holiday, it attracts not just locals, but out-of-staters.

        Randy and Christine Mueller, former Cincinnatians, moved to Columbus, Ga., four months ago, but came back for Labor Day. Their daughter, Kateri, 4, turned the race into her own Independence Day.

        “I carried her halfway but she made the big finish by herself,” Mr. Mueller said.

        “I won,” Kateri announced, taking a brief break away from the zoo playground equipment. “I won.” As did everyone else who got up early and did their cheetah best.


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