SCHERERVILLE — Clear skies and warm sunshine brightened the course Saturday morning for the #DANSTRONG 5K at and around Grimmer Middle School.
Susan Thompson, fifth grade teacher at the middle school, called out to participants with a megaphone for their attention, thanking them for attending.
"He always motivated us," she said to participants before they began. "Just keep him in mind. Runners, run well. He would’ve wanted you to push yourself to your limit."
Kathy Grimler, science teacher, then gave the starting horn to send participants off.
The race honored former Grimmer Middle School teacher Dan Runyan, who went into cardiac arrest on a late January afternoon while participating with a student running club at the school. Runyan also coached track and Science Olympiad. He was a former football coach.
Around 150 participants, including middle school students, alumni, faculty and community members ran a 5K or walked a 3K route starting at the school that traveled through the surrounding neighborhood and back to the school.
Runners and walkers sported various apparel items, including #DANSTRONG headbands and blue shirts with periodic table elements spelling out HERO. Those and yellow shirts with beakers, a Rutherfordium symbol and a Purdue University logo signified Dan's science background and college alma mater.
Strack & Van Til donated apples, bananas and water for participants at the end of the route.
"I thought the turnout was great," Michelle Coyle, science teacher at Grimmer Middle School said. "We had great weather. Anything to support Dan."
Students, alumni, faculty and community members in the Region and greater Chicagoland have shown the Runyan family an outpouring of support, from GoFundMe donations to a celebration of life event in March. The school has a wall honoring Dan outside his classroom and a tree recently planted outside in memory of him.
"I thought it was wonderful," Heather Runyan, of Portage, and Dan's wife of 18 years, said. "It was wonderful to see all the students that came out. It was such a great, sunny day."
Heather was joined by her two children, Avery and Cole, and friends and family from around the Region and Illinois at the event.
Registration fees from the event are going to the Runyan family. Heather says she will direct those funds toward registration fees for Susan Thompson and Nick Meyer, science teacher, in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Prior to his death, Dan was training to run in the annual event. His passing motivated Thompson and Meyer to run in his honor.
The marathon has a lottery system for registrants. Dan, who was not among those chosen, had the alternative option of running with a charity or nonprofit as long as $1,500 was raised. He had selected the Organization for Autism Research. Thompson and Meyer have a goal to raise $3,000 collectively to cover their fees and run with the organization in Dan's honor.
On the race day in October, Thompson says Heather will give her a necklace with some of Dan's cremated ashes to wear during the event. Meyer plans to use Dan's running shoe laces on his own shoes.
"Just to get Dan to see his goal through is what we're willing to accomplish," Thompson said. "Dan was all about motivating people, just to get out and give your best effort."
Logan Russell, of Schererville, was the top male finisher with a time of 20 minutes, 40 seconds. Amber Bryant, of Schererville, was the top female finisher with a time of 25 minutes, 38 seconds.
Russell, now a freshman at Lake Central High School, had Dan as a track coach when he was a student at Grimmer Middle School.
"He always pushed us really hard," Russell said. "He played a big role in that. (He told us) never give up. I think that's some motivation."