There was recognition for those who donned the best costumes. Honors bestowed on top finishers. And everyone who completed one of two Jingle Bell Runs through Tacoma’s Wright Park on Saturday earned a candy cane.
But the biggest winner?
Easily, it was Eldon Friesen of Gig Harbor, a participant in the 10 a.m. event who came striding over the finish line just as runners and walkers were lining up to start the second race at noon.
Second-round competitors formed a welcoming tunnel for Friesen, 61, cheering and clapping as he completed the 3-mile circuit that took him several times around the park — just as he promised his wife and daughter that he would.
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“I did it,” said a joyful Friesen, who uses a cane for stability due to a stroke four years ago.
“He and his Pilates instructor have been working the last three months so he can get this done,” said Friesen’s wife, Debbie.
Their daughter, Cheryl Friesen, was on hand to document her father’s moment of triumph with her cellphone camera.
“I was hoping to finish before the second race,” Friesen said. He made it just in time.
He also hopes Saturday’s event will be the first of many.
“But it’ll be a little while, because I have to recuperate,” Friesen said.
The Jingle Bell Run, sponsored by Metro Parks Tacoma, drew more than 450 people to the early start event and at least 400 who started at noon.
The title of the event wasn’t lost on those who ran or walked the course. Many attached bells to their sneakers and the jingling sounds filled the park as competitors left the starting line.
While some approached it as a race, for others the competition seemed to be about who could dress in the most holiday gear. There was a family of elves. Some participants dyed their hair red and green, while others wore classic, but not necessarily ugly, Christmas sweaters. Toddlers were bundled under holiday blankets in strollers.
We earned our Christmas dessert
Matthew Olson, at the Jingle Bell Run
Linda Taylor from Spanaway, Susan Runyan from Puyallup and Cheryl Evans from Graham walked the course dressed in red from head to toe. Taylor wore a Santa suit tunic, Runyan wore a red tutu with a candy cane striped top, and Evans wore a Santa top over red shorts and red and white leggings. All three wore Santa hats, a popular head covering for Jingle Bell Run participants.
Evans is a professional clown who does appearances at local schools, so dressing in a crazy costume is just another day at the office for her. She and her two friends have been known to trick-or-treat at the Tacoma Mall in Bat Girl gear, climbing inside a store window to pose with mannequins.
“We gave away free hugs,” Evans said.
The Sherwood family from Tacoma — daughters Shawna and Brianna, mom Nancy and aunt Lucindy Matison — were decked out in festive gear, including red T-shirts that read “Christmas & Chill.” Joining them was a canine member of the family, Bailey, a pit-lab mix who was dressed in antler headgear and a doggie Christmas sweater.
“We dress her up for all the holidays,” Nancy Sherwood said.
The Lowes — daughters Claire and Carlie, and dad Paul — from Buckley called themselves “the gifts that keep on giving.” The girls wore boxes gift-wrapped with holiday paper, while dad was wrapped in a giant Christmas-theme plastic bag.
Three students from Eastern Washington University, home in western Washington for the holidays, seemed to be among the few participants who looked like serious runners. Sadie Wilson, Melissa Oyen and Tiffany Jamiel waited for the start of the noon race wearing only T-shirts, shorts and sneakers, stomping bare legs to keep warm in the 38-degree weather that waffled between clouds and sun breaks. All three play club soccer on campus, and Wilson said they decided to do the Jingle Bell Run so they could stay in shape over the holidays.
Burning calories in advance of Christmas dinner was also part of the motivation for another family group at the Jingle Bell Run.
Teresa and Gerry Nickel of University Place, along with daughter and son-in-law Stefanie and Matthew Olson of Tacoma, were supposed to be part of a big entourage from a family that includes eight kids — six with spouses — and six grandchildren.
But the Nickels and Olsons were the only ones who showed up early Saturday.
“We earned our Christmas dessert,” Matthew Olson said. “They didn’t.”
Teresa Nickel hinted that there might be playful recriminations on Christmas morning for the no-show members of the family.
But Gerry Nickel had another message for them: “We really missed you!”