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Wayne Klumper returns to Fun Run

BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE Wayne Klumper (second from left), son Dan (far left), daughter Tresse (with her children in a stroller) and Wayne’s wife Dea jog in the Fun Run 5K event.

WORTHINGTON — This isn’t Bedford Falls, and he isn’t George Bailey, but by now Wayne Klumper must be feeling as if he’s starring in his own surreal version of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

A little more than a year ago, the longtime program director at the Worthington Area YMCA suffered a life-threatening motorcyle accident. On Wednesday, after an uncountable number of prayers and words of encouragement sent up on Klumper’s behalf during a slow and painful road to recovery, one of Worthington’s most beloved citizens ran, himself, in the 32nd annual YMCA Fun Run at Olson Park.

Like Jimmy Stewart in the much-admired Christmas movie — who never knew how much his friends and acquaintances loved him until tragedy struck — the kind, selfless 64-year-old has been fortunate enough to see the impact he’s had on other peoples’ lives while still walking among us.

Klumper now walks a little slower than he once did. He has a little trouble now and then pronouncing the words he wants to say. But the smile is still there.

“He’s kind of nervous. Today he’s kind of nervous,” his wife, Dea, confessed prior to race-time. “He said, ‘I hope somebody comes. I said, ‘I’m sure there’ll be a lot of people there.’”

The annual Fun Run is routinely billed as a relaxed family activity, and nothing happened to change that on Wednesday. A little extra excitement went into the event this year, however, because Wayne Klumper had promised not only to appear, but to run in the 5K — and to make it his last 5K race.

For 31 years he’d helped mark the course. On Wednesday, he revealed that he’d only actually run it once before.

In measured words on a clear and pleasant Wednesday evening, Klumper expressed his feelings before the half-mile, mile and 5K events started.

“I’ve been thinking about all that the Good Lord did to give us the opportunity to feel better and move on,” he said, remembering his months of difficulty during hospitalization. “I guess I’m mostly thankful that I had the chance to come here and do this tonight. Because a lot of people didn’t get a chance to go anywhere.”

While race registrations were still being taken Wednesday, C.J. Nelson, who now serves as the YMCA program director, thanked the many “great helpers” who have made the Fun Run a success — volunteers like Tom and Barb Navara, and Stan and Julie Haas. Nelson said the event, with the return of Wayne Klumper, adds tradition to the tradition.

But the “fun” aspect never changes.

“It’s pretty much all about coming out and having fun. We don’t care if you run it, walk it, crawl it. Just come out and bring your family and have fun,” Nelson said.

Many runners have participated in the Fun Run on a regular basis. Others have not.

One of those was 57-year-old Kevin Flynn, who says he’s not a runner by any stretch of the imagination.

“The thing that brings me out today is Mr. Klumper,” Flynn said. “I think maybe I’ll be hanging up my running shoes with Klump. It’ll be his last race, and it’ll also be mine.”

It’s probably safe to assume, however, that there will not soon be an end to the friends and acquaintances who walked up to “Klump” Wednesday to offer their best wishes. Dea said the two of them are growing quite accustomed to unexpected surprises.

“We were at the grocery store and he had a couple of women grab him and hug him and say they’re glad to see him,” Dea recalled with a smile. “And he didn’t even have an idea of who they were!”

(Fun Run individual race times will be printed in Friday's Daily Globe)

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He self-publishes original fiction in his spare time. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" are being distributed through a national publisher.

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