Needler outlasts competition, relentless heat

He wins 4-mile run in time of 20:57.

Kokomo Tribune - Sunday, July 3, 2011

By Mark Saluke
Tribune sportswriter

More than 300 participants crowded the intersection of Apperson Way and Superior Street on Saturday morning for the 34th annual Haynes-Apperson 4-mile run/3-mile walk, but as soon as Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight gave the go-ahead, B.J. Needler was already starting to distance himself from the bunch.

The Wabash resident finished the way he started, crossing the Kautz Field finish line 35 seconds ahead of his closest competition to easily take first place in 20 minutes, 57 seconds.

“I actually felt bad the whole way,” the 2000 Southwood graduate said. “I think it’s just this humidity.”

Needler, who holds Southwood’s cross country record for 5,000 meters with a time of 15:49, was the Haynes-Apperson runner-up behind Kyle Walsh in 2006 and again in ’07. His ’07 time was nearly 20 seconds faster (20:40) than Saturday’s.

“I knew at the mile mark I was off my time,” he said. “I tried to set in on cruise-control and started feeling sick. At that point I was thinking, ‘Just get the win.’ I knew Austin Young was fast, that he ran a 15:22 indoors, and I kept looking back on the turns to see where he was. Beating him is certainly a feather in the cap.”

After a third-place finish the past two years, 2011 Carroll graduate Blake Mills (21:32) edged Young (21:34) in the end to take second place.

“I was running in third and kept thinking I was going to end up in third again,” Mills said.

“[Young] had a little distance on me, but I started to pick up on him close to the end. I passed him right before we hit the last stretch, but it was still close right up to the end.”

Mills, who broke his school record in the 1,600 during this year’s sectionals with a time of 4:23 and hopes to continue his cross country and track career when he heads to Purdue in the fall, shaved 27 seconds off of last year’s time during Saturday’s run.

“I came in not knowing what to expect, my legs felt a little heavy at first,” Mills said. “I was just hanging back early and seeing how I felt, and I moved up as the race went on.

“I don’t know what everybody else is saying, but I think the conditions were worse this year. I know B.J. was planning on running a lot faster. I think the heat affected a lot of people.”

Heather Weber lost some speed from her 2010 run, but still had plenty of legs to three-peat as the women’s champion with a time of 25:17, placing her 15th overall. Lauren Sewell was second (25:44) and Diana Jones placed third (29:00)

Weber said her reason for the slower time — a 1:06 difference from last year — wasn’t necessarily the weather.

“I turned 40 in December and I guess once you turn 40, everything falls apart,” the mother of four said with a laugh. “I had some knee injuries over the winter and needed to take a lot of time off. Unfortunately, that’s taken a toll on a lot of my training.

“I just didn’t feel great [Saturday]. No excuses with my knee because it didn’t hurt [Saturday]. I just haven’t put in enough training to get back to my good times yet. But I have a lot of good training partners and can always find somebody to keep me going and get me out the door.”

3-mile Walk

Familiar faces took top honors in the 3-mile walk as Russiaville’s Vince Lorenz repeated as the men’s winner with a record-time of 26:23, while Bunker Hill’s Mary Miller took her seventh straight women’s win, crossing the line at 30:09. Both improved their times from a year ago, but both felt the heat as well.

“I feel like I struggled a little bit [Saturday], didn’t feel strong, it was hard to breathe,” said Miller, who improved 29 seconds from her 2010 finish.

Miller and Lorenz both credit 12-time winner and mentor Jerry Lambert for their continued progress.

“If it wasn’t for Jerry, I wouldn’t be here,” said Lorenz, who just returned from a half-marathon in California and said he wasn’t ready for the humidity following the dry heat he experienced in San Diego.

“I felt like I was doing worse than last year at the start, like I wasn’t really going anywhere. I did better as I went along. I believe Jerry said the past record was 26:36.”

Lambert would know.

“I was in my 60s when I set that record,” the Hayes-Apperson veteran said.

Lambert set that bar in 1999. Saturday, he finished ninth overall with a time of 35:21.

“I guess that’s all right for an old man,” said Lambert, who turns 75 this week.

Carol Aders finished second for the women (30:25) and Mike Yovanoff was second for the men (33:03).

Lambert praised Lorenz and Miller for great outings.

“They were just awesome. You don’t get much better than that.”

1-mile fun run

Andrecus Eddington won the 1-mile fun run in 6:18. Reagan Ritchie was the top female and second overall, finishing in 6:22.

B.J. Needler nears the finish line in the Haynes-Apperson Sports Festival’s 4-mile run on Saturday. KT photo