by Sheila Fugina
Though attendance at the 18th annual Running of the Llamas in Hammond, Wisconsin, was down just a bit from last year, there were two people present who gave the event an extra boost—reporter Mitch Smith and photographer Jenn Ackerman of the New York Times. The result was an article and photo in the Sept. 15, 2014, edition of the paper, as well as a short video clip and additional photos on the New York Times website—heady stuff for a small village in northwestern Wisconsin.
The article was well written—fun, informative and with just the right amount of humor. Llama and alpaca owners from various parts of the country, however, were quick to notify the paper that they had misidentified the animals in the photo as llamas when they were definitely alpacas. A correction in the September 17 edition identified the racers as alpacas and included the line, “While the llamas were the stars of the day, one race was designated just for alpacas, perhaps to make the llamas’ kissing cousins feel included.”
In the main event, 12 llamas ran in four heats with the winners of each heat racing against each other in a final face-off to see who took home the biggest basket of veggies. Two years ago organizers added an alpaca heat to recognize that alpacas had become a part of the day’s activities. Winners of this year’s baskets included: first place llama Lightning, owned by Mark Jacobson of Hammond and handled by Nick Meyer of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin; second place llama Cosmo, owned and handled by 4-Her Alyssa Anderson of Osceola, Wisconsin; and top alpaca Parker, owned by Don Dipprey of Comstock, Wisconsin, and handled by Maggie Carter of Roberts, Wisconsin.
Racing animals came from Wisconsin and Minnesota as did most of the handlers, but one adventurous runner, who was in the alpaca heat, came from San Diego, California. A number of 4-Hers in llama/alpaca projects ran with their project animals. Little one-year-old Margy’s Tambolicious Bart (who wasn’t even as big as his name) was a crowd favorite. He was the project llama of 4-Her Austin Eberhardt of Foreston, Minnesota, and owned by Joan Dobbert of Princeton, Minnesota.
Mercedes Blas-Day and her husband Paul drove 350 miles from their home in Des Plaines, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, to take in the day’s activities. She grew up in Peru and met her American husband there while he was teaching English and becoming acquainted with llamas. She thought he was kidding a couple of years ago when he asked her, “Do you want to go to the Running of the Llamas?” Now they’ve become regulars at the event.
The race is always preceded by a quirky three-block-long parade that features the racing llamas and alpacas strutting their stuff. This year’s parade also included unicyclists, hula hoopers, a kiddie car train, a man on stilts and kids wearing llama ear headbands. Leading the parade was the event’s mascot, bagpiper Larry Fraser of New Brighton, Minnesota, playing his bagpipes and decked out in his official plaid kilt and a neon-colored “Llama Security” t-shirt.
Vendors offered a variety of products, many of them llama and alpaca related, and the Hammond Arts Alliance sold the official 2014 Running of the Llamas t-shirts and other event souvenirs. The race was followed by the popular rib fest where five area restaurants served up their own special rib recipes in an attempt to win the people’s choice award, and a live band added to the festive atmosphere.
The Running of the Llamas is always held the second Saturday in September. More information on the event and its history, as well as a photo gallery, can be found at www.therunningofthellamas.com.