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Friday, September 11, 2009

Running of the Llamas

The news article and the video just speak for themselves so why embelish?

The Sport of Kings? Not really, but don't tell the llamas that
Wisconsin community takes its goofy annual race to heart
By Andy Rathbun
Updated: 09/11/2009 01:30:14 AM CDT

Photo courtesy of Michele Lyksett of Central St. Croix News. Anna Hartliep runs with El Corazon to a first place finish during the 2007 Running of the Llamas in Hammond, Wis. Hartliep traveled from Milwaukee on her birthday to run with the llama, which has run in the festival every year since it started in 1997. El Corazon is a llama to be feared.

Feared, though, only if you're a llama hungering for victory this weekend during the Running of the Llamas in Hammond, Wis. El Corazon, a 15-year-old gelding, is the llama with the most wins in the event's history.

"He's got a good gait, and he likes a crowd," said owner Sheila Fugina, of New Richmond.

El Corazon — Spanish for "The Heart" — is one of 12 llamas that will compete in Saturday's race. The three-time champ will have plenty of fans as crowds gather along the streets of downtown Hammond — about 35 miles east of the Twin Cities — to watch the llamas run with their handlers.

It's the 13th year of the event, which, like so many wild ideas, got started with a beer.

Paul Kremer, owner of Dick's Bar and Grill in Hudson, crafted a beer years ago that sported a llama on its label. He adopted the llama as his mascot and began holding a one-block llama run to raise money for cerebral palsy.

"People giggled and laughed and thought it was the silliest thing they ever saw," Kremer said.

After taking over the Hammond Hotel, he came up with the idea of the "Running of the Llamas."

"We really tried to focus on family and make it a total community event," said Kremer, who sold the Hammond Hotel last year.

The hotel's new owner, Don Fowell, moved this year's event from Thursday to Saturday, which he hopes will double attendance from a high of about 800 people. Also new this year is a

weekend roster of activities starting today in conjunction with the race. There will be a rib festival, live music, parade, and other activities for kids, including crafts involving llama hair.
It's the llama's coat that the animal is bred for, said Fugina, who heads up Shady Ridge Farm. The hair — commonly called llama "fiber" — can be used much like sheep's wool in clothing and other products.

There are a surprising number of farms in western Wisconsin raising llamas for

their fiber, said Fugina, who added that the state ranks in the top 10 of llama-producing states in the country.
Llamas are ideal for small farms and do very well around humans, she said. But as more people buy them, more llamas are found needing help, especially in these economic times.

"People are abandoning their foreclosed farms and leaving their animals on them, sometimes including llamas," said Fugina, who also runs the National Lama Intervention & Rescue Coordination Council.

While llamas may not be as graceful or as fast to start as horses, they can move quickly — about the speed of deer, said Fugina. They're fast enough to sometimes outrun their handlers, who occasionally take a spill during the races.

Llamas can also be temperamental, running only if they feel so inclined that day, said Fugina. Seeing other llamas running can get them going, however, and some, like El Corazon, enjoy performing for a crowd.

The race, which begins at 3 p.m., lasts about an hour and features four heats of three llamas. The winning llama, not the handler, gets the grand prize — a bouquet of assorted vegetables to munch on.

"They just think it's a hoot," said Fowell of the race's spectators. "They're just dumbfounded that it's this much fun."

Fugina expects El Corazon to have a decent chance of taking home the carrots and celery this year, though his past wins have gone to his head a bit.

"He thinks he's pretty good," she said.

Andy Rathbun can be reached at 651-228-2121


The trailer for a 30-minute documentary on the race can be found at youtube.com/user/pangolinpix.

"El Corazon," handled by Anna Hartliep, heads for a first-place finish in the 2007 "Running of the Llamas'' in Hammond, Wis. El Corazon will compete again Saturday in the 13th annual event.


For information about the race and other events surrounding the Running of the Llamas, go online to therunningofthellamas.com.

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