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Trine track, cross country alumni reunite for Ragnar Race

A team that included 10 Trine University alumni recently notched the best time in an overnight running relay from Muskegon, Michigan, to Traverse City, Michigan.

The Rag-Narwhals finished the 194-mile Reebok Ragnar Michigan Road race, held Sept. 27-28, in 22:11:33, the overall fastest time for the open section of the race. The team included the following Trine graduates:

  • Aaron Mast, 2017, mechanical engineering.
  • Courtney (Forsythe) Baker, 2016, mechanical engineering.
  • Garrett Benedict, 2017, computer engineering.
  • Gigi Jarratt, 2018, mathematics education.
  • Hannah Blystone, 2019, exercise science. Blystone is currently in Trine’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program.
  • Jonathan Phillips, 2019, mechanical engineering.
  • Kelsey (Ortiz) Balka, 2017, chemical engineering.
  • Lacie Piekarski, 2019, marketing.
  • Nick Zak, 2019, civil engineering. Zak is working on a master’s degree in environmental engineering at the University of Notre Dame.
  • Robert "Lewis" Duke, 2018, exercise science.

The Trine runners were members of the track and cross country teams while at the university; Blystone also competed in women’s triathlon. They were joined by Allison Cox, a 2018 supply chain management graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and Scott Prewitt, a 2018 exercise graduate from Marian University.

The team scored 289 kills (passes of other teams) during the race, and maintained an average pace of 6 minutes, 54 seconds per mile.

Named for Ragnar, a king and hero of early 9th century Scandinavia, Ragnar races are held across the nation. Teams of up to 12 complete about a 200-mile race on city streets, country roads, sidewalks and bike paths.

Each competitor runs between 11 and 24 miles, split between three separate legs of the race. Each runner in the Michigan race had a day run, a night run, and either another day or night run.

Teams passed a slap bracelet to symbolize a baton for the 36 legs. As each team member ran, the rest of the team drove ahead in vans to pace the runner and yell encouragement. The course included stops with bathrooms, showers, sleep areas and food stations.

“There wasn't much sleep at all; maybe a total of three hours,” Piekarski said.

At the end of the race, the entire team gathered 100 meters from the finish line and crossed the finish line together with the last runner.

Balka, who served as team captain, said the race was a success despite inclement weather for portions of the course.

"The entire process involved teamwork, and I think the race as a whole brought our team closer, even after graduation,” she said. “It was incredible to see teammates there cheering for each other outside in the miserable cold, rain and wind. The race was about so much more than just running.”

Mast said he loved the opportunity to reunite with his Trine teammates.

“They are like family, and even though we live in different states, it’s like we can pick up right where we left off,” he said. “I hope we can get together more often in the future to do events like this.”

Phillips said he enjoyed spending the time with friends, commenting that, “Those who suffer together grow together.”

"It wasn't just traveling to run for half an hour,” he said. “There was so much more to see and do.” 

Piekarski, who described herself as “a long-distance runner at heart,” said she was honored to complete the Ragnar Leg, the longest individual leg of the race at 9.1 miles, for the team.

“This race was so much more than your normal cross country or track race,” she said. “Running this race reminded me how much I truly love my teammates and why I chose to run all four years at Trine. Even though we are all grown up, working full-time jobs and living the adult life, we all still connected.”

Top photo: The Rag-Narwhals, from top, clockwise, Kelsey (Ortiz) Balka, Courtney (Forsythe) Baker, Aaron Mast, Jonathan Phillips, Hannah Blystone, Garrett Benedict, Lewis Duke, Scott Prewitt, Lacie Piekarski, Nick Zak, Allison Cox and Gigi Jarratt.

  • It's a Trine Thing

    It's a Trine Thing - From left, Trine alumni Nick Zak, Jonathan Phillips, Aaron Mast, Lewis Duke, Garrett Benedict, Gigi Jarratt, Kelsey (Ortiz) Balka, Courtney (Forsythe) Baker, Lacie Piekarski and Hannah Blystone sport their Trine gear.

  • Starting line

    Starting line - From left, Jonathan Phillips, Scott Prewitt, Lewis Duke, Lacie Piekarski, Gigi Jarratt and Garrett Benedict at the starting line for the race.

  • Rag-Narwhals

    Rag-Narwhals - The Rag-Narwhals, front, from left, Kelsey (Ortiz) Balka, Lacie Piekarski, Aaron Mast, Allison Cox, Hannah Blystone, Gigi Jarratt; back, Nick Zak, Jonathan Phillips, Lewis Duke, Courtney (Forsythe) Baker, Scott Prewitt and Garrett Benedict.