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No snow necessary

Fun bests the blahs in first annual Beat the Bitter Winter Games
About 80 people came out for a chilly 5K-ish obstacle run, the kick-off event for North Liberty’s first-ever Beat the Bitter Winter Games on Saturday, Feb. 6. Pulling a sled laden with full sand bags was just one of the eight different winter-themed obstacles to overcome in the route that took three passes around Penn Meadows Park. (photo by Lori Lindner)

NORTH LIBERTY– Although Midwesterners, Iowans are apparently not very good at winter.
That was the beginning of a discussion that ended with a plan for action to create “Beat the Bitter Winter Games and Good Cheer,” North Liberty’s newest community celebration.
The inaugural event took place Saturday, Feb. 6, with activities to encourage area residents to come outside, get moving, spark some new friendships and warm up to winter as best they could.
“Leighton Smith pitched it after he and his friends had been sitting around and talking about how Iowans aren’t very good at winter,” said Nick Bergus, co-coordinator of Beat the Bitter. “We sort of hibernate. We don’t go out and meet our neighbors, we’re not social.”
Minnesotans, on the other hand, take a different approach.
“They have pond hockey, ice festivals, and all these outdoor events. They embrace winter, but we just sort of grumble and complain. We’re bad at it,” Bergus said.
More conversations led to planning Beat the Bitter, a one-day celebration of the season and all its chilly charms. The day began at Penn Meadows Park, with the Indomitable Snow Run, a 5K obstacle race in which 80 participants shook off the stiffness and welcomed the 30-degree morning. Snow was scarce, but dispositions were sunny.
Brandon Kuehl helped organize the obstacle run.
“We wanted to do a 5K fun run, but the obstacle course is something now that draws a big crowd. That was the idea,” said Kuehl. “So we got the course set up, with the help of the Nick, (Recreation Director) Shelly Simpson, North Liberty Parks Department– who were phenomenal with setting it all up– and the people who donated materials.”
Runners made three laps around the park and navigated nine obstacles, including hefting rubber parking bumpers, climbing walls, pulling sleds filled with sandbags, walking a balance beam, flipping truck tires, hitting targets with objects and crawling through a culvert.
“Next year we will just try to make it bigger and better,” said Kuehl.
Race winner Joe Hughes, of Coralville, is a regular outdoor runner in all of Iowa’s seasons.
“I was hoping for six inches of snow, but this was pretty fun too,” said Hughes. “I like to pick maybe seven or eight races a year to do; I like fun ones like this, and the obstacles just make it better.”
Hughes said he and his wife often look for opportunities to get outside with their kids year round.
“We don’t want to just stay in the house during winter, and that’s the whole purpose of this event today,” said Hughes. “I love this.”
The kick-off run was followed by an outdoor rugby exhibition game by the Iowa City Ducks rugby team. The “Kick Winter in the Snowballs” kickball tournament brought eight teams of the hale and hearty to the park’s ball diamonds for an afternoon of kickball, while Sugar Bottom Bike’s Jon Yetley and his crew offered free demonstrations of fat tire bicycle riding around the nearby mostly-frozen terrain. The Nearly Impossible Scavenger Hunt scattered people throughout the city in search of 37 items that, while they probably existed somewhere, were not readily accessible: William, the University of Iowa’s escaped-and-still-at-large laboratory goat, was the final item.
Laurie Canady, of Iowa City, also participated in the Indomitable Snow Run, and thought the frosty fun was a big success.
“Everything was just perfect,” said Canady. “The course was spectacular. The volunteers were super. Perfect day, perfect weather, perfect organization.”
Canady is a marathon runner but has not participated in an obstacle run before.
“I’ve always wanted to do one, and I thought I’d probably be the oldest one here, but I did it anyway,” said the 57-year-old runner. “It was just super. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.”
The weather was a bit of a change for the Iowa City Ducks Rugby Football Club, though. The Division III team’s season typically runs from April through June and sometimes into November. However, playing in below-freezing temperatures did not discourage the dynamic Ducks. An exhibition match between the Ducks and the Quad Cities’ Palmer College Rugby team took place also at Penn Meadows Park.
“Usually at this time of year we aren’t playing at all, not outside in February,” said club coach Chuck Furness. “They aren’t in mid-season form, but everybody is excited to be out here and playing in the cold. They were like, ‘let’s do it.”
As an exhibition match, the field was smaller, the team was whittled to seven active players and the game abbreviated, but it was a good opportunity to show people the game, Furness said.
“The idea is to demonstrate rugby, because a lot of people don’t know it or have never seen it,” said Furness. “The hope is for people to check it out, and maybe someone will want to come play with us.”
After all the outdoor events wrapped up, the community was invited to a party at Red’s Alehouse, to thaw their toes and warm their spirits with DJ music, a buffet meal, beer and wine selections and a few indoor winter games as well.
In all, Bergus said, it was a great first attempt at brightening the community’s outlook on winter.
“These kind of events don’t happen without a lot of community involvement, and that’s what happened here. A great group of community members came together with some cool ideas about how to bring people out of hibernation and get over that mid-winter slump,” said Bergus. “We would have liked more snow, but we are pretty pleased. Everybody seems pretty stoked about how this has gone, and we already have ideas about things we want to do next year. Bigger, better, and more.”