Vicksburg Area Family Runs at Disney World

Manske family medals
Manski family members, left to right: Shari, Scott, John W., Sarah, John C., and Brett. The colored shirts represent as follows: green (Dopey Challenge), orange (Goofy Challenge), black (marathon), red (half marathon), yellow (10K), gray (5K). Photo by Dawn Wilson.

By Michael C. Reed

When the entire family takes up a sport such as competitive running, we might expect the nudge to come from the kids.

Not in the Manski family of Pavilion Township. There, the nudge came from mom — Shari, now 50. Within a year, her husband, John W., 55, and children John C., 31; Scott, 22, Sarah, 20, and Brett, 13, had taken up the sport.

Shari wanted to improve her health. She wanted to run a marathon. She began running in early 2013.

By October, 2013, she had completed the Grand Rapids Marathon. By June that year, the rest of the family was also running. Husband John W. credits her “with getting us started. She has been an inspiration both to the family and to friends and coworkers.”

Despite running for less than a full year, Shari was named Rookie of the Year in 2013 by Kalamazoo Area Runners (KAR). In that year she ran her first 5K, 10K, 15K and half marathon as well as the 26-mile-plus full marathon. Shari said that the runners’ group “Influenced my running development by providing insight for me to be a successful running athlete.”

The Manski family soon started looking farther afield. All five adults ran the Walt Disney World Marathon near Orlando, Fla., in January, 2014.  According to John W., “This race inspired us to run the Dopey Challenge in 2015.”

Although Disney World’s Goofy Challenge (a half-marathon on Saturday and a marathon on Sunday) has existed for ten years, the Dopey Challenge, now in its second year, has added Thursday and Friday to the race calendar, including 5-K and 10-K races, thereby offering what Disney World calls “the ultimate endurance challenge,” four straight days of running for a total of 48.6 miles.

The Manski family traveled to Disney World last month and competed in all four races. Brett, 13, was age-restricted and only able to run in the 5- and 10-K races. Each of the five adults earned six medals for completing the series, one for each race and one each for the Goofy and Dopey Challenges.

John W. said that, by the very end, on Sunday, “Everybody was tired, but also we had a great sense of relief—that we all finished since none of us wanted to be the one who didn’t finish!”

John and wife Shari came to this area from Pennsylvania in 1986 to work for Upjohn. John now works for Pfizer as a senior manager of analytical chemists. Shari works for Pfizer in quality operations.

John W. said that his family is “competitive” but also close-knit. His oldest child, John C., lives about ten miles away and is unmarried and “still goes on vacations with the family.” There is one other Manski child, Joseph, who is 30 and has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. John W. said that the family is considering entering Joseph as a wheelchair participant in the Grand Rapids marathon or half-marathon. The other family members would take turns pushing Joseph throughout the race.

John W. said the family had been fairly active in the past by playing golf. “But,” he said, “we were not particularly active in terms of cardiovascular sports activities” such as competitive running.

John and Shari’s children have attended Vicksburg Community Schools. Scott and Sarah were on the high school golf teams there. Scott, who graduated in 2011, went to state twice, in 2009 and 2010. Sarah also went to state two years; she graduated 2012. Scott also played hockey for the Kalamazoo Blades of the Southwest Michigan High School Hockey League.

Would the family return to run at Disney World? John W. said they plan to run the Dopey Challenge again in five years when their youngest, Brett, is old enough to run all the races.

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