Thursday, July 4, 2019

Micheal Niezgoda and Ann Centner provided the fireworks at the Firecracker 5K

If you've been around Tallahassee, Florida long enough, you may remember going to Lake Ella on Independence Day for the fireworks. Since then the show has moved to Tom Brown Park. But starting in 2014, the Independence Day destination for Tallahassee runners is a morning appointment at Cascades Park to race the Capital City Kiwanis' Firecracker 5K. Michael Niezgoda kept that Thursday morning, 4 July 2019, appointment in a big way, winning the race in 17:43. Ann Centner was the first woman across the finish line, placing fourth overall in 18:03.

Michael Niezgoda
Michael Niezgoda

It was the 37th annual Firecracker 5K. For thirty years, from 1983 to 2012, the Greensboro, Florida Kiwanis Club hosted the Firecracker 5K in Gadsden County on a course that ran from Sycamore to Greensboro. After inheriting the race in 2013, the Capital City Kiwanis Club staged the race in Phipps Park for a year before moving downtown to Cascades Park. That was where the 2019 Firecracker started at 8:00 AM. Trevor Sununu set the early pace for the field, but he didn't have much time to enjoy the lead before Niezgoda took over.

"It was right in front of the Edison, about three-fourths of a mile," said Niezgoda. "Trevor kept surging during the first mile, trying to keep ahead of me. But I could tell the pace was slowing. So I had to get by him."

Trevor Sununu
Trevor Sununu

Once past Sununu, Niezgoda pulled steadily away, opening a gap of 70 meters during the second mile. During the third mile Zach DeVeau overtook Sununu and began to narrow Niezgoda's lead. But Niezgoda was still more than 50 meters ahead when he crossed the finish line in a winning 17:43. DeVeau took second in 17:54, and Sununu was third in 17:58. Tallahassee Community College cross-country coach Gary Droze was the first master runner in the race, finishing fifth overall in 18:25. Master runner Michael Martinez was able to keep Coach Droze in sight throughout the race, but only to see the Coach pull farther ahead. Martinez was the second master and sixth overall in 18:38.

"I live right here in Tallahassee, but I don't run many local races," said Niezgoda. "This was a sign-up-the-day-before type of thing."

Zach DeVeau
Zach DeVeau

If you don't see Niezgoda at many 5K races, it's because he's getting ready for something longer.

"I'm training to do the Chicago Marathon," said Niezgoda.

Gary Droze
Gary Droze

On any Fourth of July morning in Florida you can expect high temperatures, and after the race there were more than a few complaints about the heat. None of those complaints, though, came from women's champ Ann Centner.

"I wasn't really that hot out there," said Centner. "5K, I don't really feel the heat. 10K, I would."

Ann Centner
Ann Centner

Centner's 18:04 was the fastest women's time at the Firecracker 5K since the race moved to Tallahassee. It was a speedy run from the outset, but Alyson Churchill was right with Centner. A rising senior on the Chiles High cross-country team and the 2016 Florida high school cross-country champion, Churchill had won the Firecracker 5K women's title in 2015.

"I think she went out pretty fast, because my first mile was pretty fast, too. 5:35 or 5:38," said Centner. "I was probably out faster than usual but I've been doing shorter workouts, training for the mile."

Alyson Churchill, Ann Centner
Alyson Churchill & Ann Centner

After that 5:35 (or 5:38) opening mile, Churchill took over the lead.

"I was behind Ann for a mile," said Churchill. "I passed her right at the mile, and then she passed me at the turnaround."

"At the turnaround I put in a surge and she didn't go with me," said Centner.

Alyson Churchill
Alyson Churchill

Nor did anyone else. Center went 18:04, taking first in the women's standings. Alyson Churchill ran 18:55, placing runner-up for the women and tenth overall in 18:55.

"That was exciting!" said Churchill. "I enjoyed doing a community race."

Mo Palmer
Mo Palmer

Churchill doesn't get to compete in many community events, being busy racing for the Chiles High Timberwolves--for instance, at the 2018 High School State Championships, where the Chiles girls won the team title. One of the athletes she raced that morning was Palmetto High senior Morgan "Mo" Palmer. Palmer, now headed to Florida State University, was the third woman and nineteenth overall in the Firecracker 5K, running 19:45.

Davidson University distance runner Caroline Willis outkicked Florida Tech alum Amanda Sava for the fourth spot in the women's standings, 20:20 to 20:24. Willis and Sava were 21st and 22nd overall. Stacy Biggart of Tallahassee was the first woman master and eleventh female finisher, 44th overall in 23:17.

Caroline Willis, Amanda Sava
Caroline Willis & Amanda Sava

521 athletes finished the Capital City Kiwanis' 2019 Firecracker 5K. Gulf Winds Track Club chip-timed the race.

Top Ten Men, 2019 Capital City Kiwanis Firecracker 5K
  1. 17:43, Michael Niezgoda (M, 30)
  2. 17:54, Zach Deveau (M, 31)
  3. 17:58, Trevor Sununu (M, 23)
  4. 18:25, Gary Droze (M, 58)
  5. 18:38, Michael Martinez (M, 53)
  6. 18:41, Hawthorne Hay (M, 17)
  7. 18:45, Michael Rhodes (M, 50)
  8. 18:48, Khalil Randell (M, 22)
  9. 18:59, Mickey Moore (M, 49)
  10. 19:04, Myles Gibson (M, 53)

Top Ten Women, 2019 Capital City Kiwanis Firecracker 5K
  1. 18:03, Ann Centner (F, 27)
  2. 18:55, Alyson Churchill (F, 17)
  3. 19:45, Mo Palmer (F, 18)
  4. 20:20, Caroline Willis (F, 20)
  5. 20:24, Amanda Sava (F, 24)
  6. 20:50, Brittney Barnes (F, 31)
  7. 20:54, Megan Churchill (F, 17)
  8. 21:45, Mia Wiederkehr (F, 21)
  9. 22:18, Kirsten Tucker (F, 23)
  10. 22:49, Laura McDermott (F, 39)

Recent winners of the Firecracker 5000m
4 July 201917:43, Michael Niezgoda18:03, Ann Centner521
4 July 201815:34, Ricardo Estremera19:12, Katie Sherron479
4 July 201716:48, Charlie Johnson19:42, Katie Sherron520
4 July 201616:06, Stanley Linton20:35, Brittney Barnes399
4 July 201517:00, Michael Potter19:23, Alyson Churchill370
4 July 201417:06, Joseph Garcia18:58, Katie Slater431
4 July 201318:22, Roger Schmidt20:53, Katie Showman180
4 July 201216:14, Stanley Linton22:36, Nancy Stedman128
4 July 201117:20, Joel Piotrowski21:35, Stephanie Stout73
3 July 201018:45, Cliff Skelton22:29, Nancy Stedman87
4 July 200916:46, Daniel Lee19:26, Emily Ness78
4 July 2008
4 July 200718:05, Tony Guillen21:51, Julie Clark88
4 July 200617:40, James Cook20:03, Julia Vola76
4 July 200516:44, Jeff Dubias20:30, Heather Bailey56
3 July 200415:48, Caleb Carmichael18:39, Kara Newell127
4 July 2003
4 July 200216:57, Jason Fulghum22:07, Janice Hochstein80
4 July 200117:22, Paul Hoover17:53, Sarah Docter-Williams94
4 July 200015:57, Gary Droze18:10, Sarah Docter-Williams155
4 July 199916:37, Tim Simpkins17:56, Sarah Docter-Williams
4 July 199816:05, Damian Wilson17:35, Sarah Docter-Williams
4 July 1997
4 July 199615:45, Gary Droze19:13, Carrie Weyant
4 July 199416:07, Gary Droze18:19, Lisa Herman
4 July 199016:55, Bill Crooks19:10, Vikki Saga
4 July 198916:47, Paul Hoover20:27, Mae Cleveland
4 July 198817:02, Paul Hoover
From 1983 to 2012 the Firecracker 5000 was run in Gadsden County from
Sycamore to Greensboro.
In 2013 the Firecracker 5000 was run in Tallahassee on trails in Phipps

In 2014 the Firecracker 5000 was run in Tallahassee from Cascades Park
on USATF Certified Course FL14067EBM.

In 2015 the Firecracker 5000 was run in Tallahassee from Cascades Park
on USATF Certified Course FL15071EBM.

In 2016 the Firecracker 5000 was run in Tallahassee from Cascades Park
on USATF Certified Course FL14149EBM.


1 comment:

  1. Speaking of fireworks in Tom Brown Park, the Florida Archives contains a photo of an Independence Day road race in Tom Brown Park back in the 1980s. Does anyone out there remember such a race?