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Runner wins Fitger’s 5K several years after nearly losing a foot in boating accident

Trevor Zimak of Thunder Bay, Ontario, breaks the tape at the finish line to win the 25th annual Fitger’s 5K race on Saturday morning, April 19, 2014 in Duluth. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com )3 / 7
Hundreds of runners take off from the starting line of the 25th annual Fitger’s 5K race on Saturday morning along East Superior Street in Duluth. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)4 / 7
Katie McGee of Duluth was the women’s winner of the 25th annual Fitger’s 5K race on Saturday morning. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)5 / 7
Fitger’s 5K runners head up East Superior Street toward the finish line on Saturday morning. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)6 / 7
Isaac Boedigheimer (right) hugs his friend John Waltjer, both of Cloquet, seconds before the start of the Fitger’s 5K race Saturday morning. Boedigheimer finished second in the race. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)7 / 7

Less than seven years ago, doctors told Trevor Zimak he would never run again.

On Saturday, Zimak crossed the finish line all alone to win the 25th annual Fitger’s 5K for the first time.

Zimak, a 30-year-old native of Thunder Bay, Ontario, was timed in 15 minutes, 54 seconds on a cold, rainy, blustery day down East Superior Street, kicking off the Northland running season.

A competitive fisherman, Zimak was in a tournament on Rainy Lake in Fort Frances, Ontario, during the summer of 2007 when his boat caught a wave, spun 360 degrees and catapulted the fishermen into the water. Zimak’s right foot caught the spinning propeller blade and was nearly severed.

“It was all a flash. I was pretty much in shock and couldn’t feel anything,” Zimak recalled.

He was flown to Thunder Bay for immediate surgery, but had lost so much blood that his life, as well as his foot, was in danger.

“Threat to limb, threat to life was the classification they had me in,” he said. “I wasn’t able to move any of my limbs because I had lost so much blood.”

The propeller had chewed into his ankle and cut off 3½ inches of distal fibula, but left the ankle joint intact. Surgeons screwed in a steel plate that remains to this day.

“A doctor told me that I’d never be able to run again,” Zimak said. “I thought, ‘OK, I’ll just concentrate on fishing.’ ”

But inactivity left Zimak, who ran some track and cross country in high school, out of shape. He started jogging and three years ago picked up competitive running. He finished third at his first Fitger’s run in 2012.

Zimak, who teaches English at St. Patrick High School in Thunder Bay, is now pain-free despite the nasty scar running down his lower right leg.

Having come close to losing a limb, Zimak can sympathize with those who were injured at last year’s Boston Marathon bombing. He hopes to run Boston one day, but says Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth is out of the question since it’s held the same weekend as a major fishing tournament that he’s won in the past.

“Unfortunately, the fishing career hurts the running career,” he said. “But I think I will pursue the running career a little more this year.”

Zimak says he used the 3.1-mile Fitger’s to prepare for the Firefighters Ten Mile Road Race in Thunder Bay on May 19.

“Right now, I’m just looking to get out and do some hard runs,” he said. “Doing a race, you are motivated to run a little harder than you would in a training run.”

Just running period is victory in itself after what Zimak has been through.

Cloquet freshman Isaac Boedigheimer finished second in 17:02, while David Hyopponen was Duluth’s highest finisher in fourth.

WOMEN

NEW MOM MCGEE HOLDS OFF TEENAGER FOR SIXTH TITLE

Slightly more than two months ago, Katie McGee was giving birth to her first child in 13 years.

On Saturday, she was holding off a runner 26 years her junior to win her sixth Fitger’s title.

McGee, 41, was timed in 19:30, crossing the line just ahead of 15-year-old Cloquet freshman Anja Maijala. That duo, along with Duluthian Amanda Lepisto, ran together for most of the race before McGee gained a slight advantage.

“I didn’t want that little high school girl tracking me down because she’s got some fast legs,” McGee said.

McGee bore a son, Owen, on Feb. 17 and didn’t resume running for more than a month afterward.

“I feel like I’m getting back into the swing of it,” she said. “In the last week, week-and-a-half, I felt like my body’s coming back. They tell you to wait six weeks to run, and that’s probably for good reason.”

But McGee, who teaches a marathoning class at Lake Superior College, was inspired to return to the road for her students’ sake.

“I wanted to race because I told my students that I wanted them to run it,” she said. “I thought, ‘If those guys are going to be out here running it, I want to, too’ — even though it’s pushing it to run right now.”

McGee, who also has 16- and 13-year-old children, plans to run the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon in June and then train for a full marathon in the fall. She’s hoping to better the qualifying standard to enter a fourth Olympic Trials.

A veteran of running in horrible conditions, McGee says Saturday’s race was one of her coldest, wettest Fitger’s runs. Temperatures were in the mid-30s with brisk easterly winds.

“You are always lured into thinking that it’s going to be fine on the way out (on the first half of the course) and then it’s a pretty tough mile back into the finish,” she said. “I’ve run it enough times that I know what to expect.”

An official total of 1,637 runners and 118 walkers finished the race — nearly two-thirds women — out of a record 2,032 entries.

“Only Duluthians would be out here running,” McGee said.

Fitger’s 5K Saturday’s Results Men 1. Trevor Zimak, Thunder Bay, Ontario, 15:54; 2. Isaac Boedigheimer, Cloquet, 17:02; 3. Mike McPherson, Ironwood, Mich., 17:06; 4. David Hyopponen, Duluth, 17:08; 5. Dillon Johnston, Duluth, 17:16; 6. Adam Doe, Fridley, Minn., 17:20; 7. Rob Decot, Duluth, 17:34; 8. Josh Blankenheim, Duluth, 17:37; 9. Seanathen Gaskell, Esko, 17:51; 10. John Waltjer, Cloquet, 18:03.

Women 1. Katie McGee, Duluth, 19:30; 2. Anja Maijala, Wrenshall, 19:32; 3. Amanda Lepisto, Duluth, 19:47; 4. Sydney Johnston, Duluth, 20:26; 5. Erin Siewert, Duluth, 20:35; 6. Rachel Perko, Duluth, 20:36; 7. Megan Baertsch, Duluth, 20:57; 8. Allison Hanig, Duluth, 21:15; 9. Kelly Keeler, White Bear Lake, Minn., 21:19; 10. Kari Hedin, Duluth, 21:31.

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