More than 600 people met at Lake Sara on Saturday to participate in the annual Lake Sara Dam Run, a footrace with a 5K run/walk, 8-mile race and half-marathon. This is the race’s 23rd running.

The race is one of a few that are starting again after a year with many fewer races than normal due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s beautiful,” said local runner Lindsay Altgilbers, referring to the sunny day on Saturday.

When asked what makes good running weather, Altgilbers replied with a smile, “Friends.”

“I wouldn’t show up to half these runs if it wasn’t for friends,” she said.

Altgilbers said the Dam Run is a sign races are coming back in full force.

“We’re all signed up for races in the fall and it looks like they’re going to happen,” she said. “I’m so excited!”

Like many races, the Lake Sara Dam Run is both an athletic competition and a way to raise money for a good cause. The Dam Run donates proceeds to benefit the Special Olympics.

“Our proceeds, some stays local to Effingham County athletes, some goes to Coles County, and some goes to Special Olympics Illinois in Bloomington,” said Ruth Rhodes, the event’s organizer and race director.

Special Olympics Illinois is a state-level organization that offers year-round sports training and competition to children and adults with intellectual disabilities. They support 23,316 athletes around the state.

Diana Ludwig is one of the organizers of Effingham Lightning. Her daughter, Jessica, who is now 33, has been an athlete for nearly two decades.

“When Jessica was in grade school, we started getting pretty involved,” said Diana.

The team started with only five athletes doing track events, but since then the program has grown and now includes more than 30 athletes, who participate and compete in volleyball, basketball, bowling, track and more. The team recently even decided to try a foray into bocce ball.

At the Dam Run, the athletes regularly volunteer to help pass out finisher medals and work the water stations throughout the race route.

“The kids get excited when they see someone they know,” said Diana.

The event is a collaboration with Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics of Illinois, which brings together law enforcement officers to participate in an annual torch relay and other fundraiser events to support the Special Olympics.

State troopers from throughout local District 12 come to support the event.

“It’s a beautiful day for it and a good turnout,” said state trooper Michael Viverito.

“The whole district kicks in,” added state trooper Josh Fergus. “It’s a good cause.”

Using police motorcycles, Viverito and Fergus led the runners at the start of each race to clear the roads around Lake Sara. Elsewhere, some law enforcement managed parking traffic and others worked to keep the event organized.

There were other nods to the event’s relationship with law enforcement. A prominent “thin blue line” flag flew from a crane next to a sign to honor state trooper Nick Hopkins, who died in a 2019 shooting in St. Louis. The Dam Run’s 8-mile race, an unusual length for this kind of event, was originally held in partnership with the Illinois State Police’s DUI Task Force, as a way to raise awareness about the state’s 0.08% blood alcohol content limit for drunk driving.

The fastest male and female runners in each race were:

  • 5K Run:
    • Brennan Guido, 22, with a time of 19:13.01 and Beth Dice, 35, with a time of 23:02.69.
  • 5K Walk:
    • Tony Miksanek, 64, with a time of 34:39.15 and Windy Westfall, 46, with a time of 40:44.44.
  • 8 Mile:
    • Jason Dunaway, 41, with a time of 48:48.54 and Wendy Kellams, 42, with a time of 1:03:30.76
  • Half-marathon:
    • Nicholas Heller, 30, with a time of 1:22:24.54 and Tonya Nunn, 47, with a time of 1:30:45.90.

    Andrew Adams can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 132 or

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    Andrew Adams can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 132 or