RACINE — Now this, kids, is the way to do it.
Using her farm-inspired work ethic to break down barriers as a competitive runner, Michelle Zerzanek gained a valuable teaching tool for the runners on her Gilmore Middle School cross country and track teams. That teaching tool was in the form of some impressive Lighthouse Run hardware — the 4-mile women’s championship in just her second try.
The 2000 Horlick High School graduate, who is also a science teacher at Gilmore, was not impressive in terms of times. In fact, her winning time of 26:16 was one minute, nine seconds slower than the previous slowest winning time for this race — 25:07 by Laura Peterson in 1997.
But that’s not the point. Zerzanek’s point was reinforcing in her runners that anything is possible with the proper commitment and her championship trophy underscores that.
“I was doing this mostly to set an example for my athletes,” said Zerzanek, who was fourth in the race last year. “I was competing against myself and then showing them that with hard work you can always improve yourself, whether you’re 15 or 30 years old.”
Competing against herself covers it pretty well for the 30-year-old Zerzanek. Despite not having competed regularly since her Horlick days and running the stationery company she started in addition to teaching and coaching, Zerzanek still runs about 60 miles a week with cross training and distance run speedwork.
Plus, her diet might rival that of an Olympic athlete.
“I’m a vegeterian, I don’t really drink alcohol and I cook everything at home,” she said. “I try to have organic gardening in my house.”
That commitment certainly came together Saturday.
“My family is maybe the least-lazy people that I know,” she said. “I came from a family of Caledonia farmers and they’re just dedicated, hard workers. This is how I commit to that same attitude.”
Four-mile men’s champion Scott Mueller was 46 seconds off his winning time of last year on a day when times trended slower across the board. But his time of 20:13 was still good enough to win by a comfortable margin over 2001 Park graduate Ben Gregory (20:25), one of the top high school distance runners in Racine history.
“We were just kind of running next to each other,” said the 26-year-old Mueller, who was third in the 1,600 and 3,200 in the WIAA Division 1 Track & Field Meet as a senior at Brookfield Central in 2004. “I would say he pushed me in the sense that I knew it was going to be a little bit faster of a race instead of being way out in front alone.”
Rounding out the top five were Dominic Maio of West Allis in third (21:08), Joe Giacalone of Hartland in fourth (21:28) and recent Horlick graduate Aric Cartagena in fifth (21:49).