I do not read a lot of books, but I’m sure there are a full bodies of work which use the sunflower for some sort of symbolism.

The life force of the sunflower is to grow as tall as possible and reach for the sun, as if guided by instincts to embrace the light and not let go. The seeds it produces are tough and can survive the harsh and barren landscapes that winter produces, and grow into life come the spring.

It is only fitting that the La Porte Economic Development put together a 5K and festival using the sunflower as its perfect logo.

Michigan Avenue was coming to life by 7 a.m. on Saturday. A hundred or so vendors began lining the street, putting craft items on display in tents. From St. Peter's Catholic Church to Lincolnway, a light haze from various barbecues and grills blurred the morning light. You could smell the labors of love coming from each vendor as they prepared amazing food throughout the morning.

A large portion of the early birds, including myself, were there to kick off the morning with a 5K run. La Porte’s own OGRES (Old Guys Run Every Sunday) running club was out in strong force, as were 70 or so participants. I spoke with a teacher from South Bend who has run in the event every year since its inception 21 years ago. I saw several people I knew from high school, as well as a few runners that I habitually find myself trying to keep up with each time we meet.

As the start of the race became inevitable, so did a little early morning heat and humidity. The air was by no means oppressive, but it certainly made its presence known as the competitors grouped up near the starting line. Participants gathered in the epicenter of the festival near the intersection of Maple and Michigan avenues. To begin a race with as many onlookers as there were definitely added a shot of excitement, which certainly dried my mouth a bit.

The race began suddenly, as time tends to do. I found myself off to a nice tempo as the packs of the race began to form a few blocks in. My old rival Adam Seymour was at the tip of the spear from the onset. He was being chased by a young man in his teens or early twenties. I found myself in the mix of the lead pack as we approached the old Ruth Sabin Home, which now houses musicians.

The two leaders began to separate from the lead pack as we approached the 17th fairway of Beechwood Golf Course from Michigan Ave. By the time we were midway down the entrance to the course, I saw the two leaders looping around near the club house, pivoting back up the out-and-back route. Personally, I felt great knowing I had the leaders in sight despite also knowing I could not possibly catch them.

It was at this point all novelty of a 5K wore off and I became fully engaged in running my own race. Making my way back up Michigan, I saw a police officer guiding traffic at the Kingsbury intersection. As I crossed, I saw the cop waving on the cars that were stopped. Now I never look back in a race, but knowing there was enough time for a few cars to pass between myself and the person behind me gave me some confidence.

However, I began to hear faint footsteps behind me soon after. At first I wasn’t sure if they were my own, or one of a respected adversary. The footsteps became louder and I could hear heavy, yet disciplined breathing. The man, who turned out to be Steve Sawaya, passed me near the South Street intersection.

I pushed my legs to pursue him as we got near the police station, but it was too little too late. He was in his kick, and I was in mine. The finish line was in sight and the old familiar burning sensation signaled that I was at capacity. From the crowd, I heard local running legend Tom Konieczny yell, “Run Eric, there is a little girl right behind you!” It was funny now that I type it out, but his cheer gave me a little boost to finish strong and in the top 10 of the race. I crossed the line at 23:50, gassed, alive and exhilarated.

There is a feeling I get when I cross the line after running hard. It’s a kind of welcoming daze that leaves me feeling slightly wobbly but incredibly strong. I closed my eyes tight as my hands interlocked behind my head, breathing in the aromatic air. When I opened them, I looked at the other finishers crossing the line after me. Each runner with their own story, reaching for the sun to be the best they can be. For this day, the symbolism behind the sunflower came alive within all of us.

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