COLUMBIA — Dick Hessler was impressed — and not just by the number of people who turned out on New Year’s Eve for the Boone Hospital 5K Run/Walk.
Hessler, former president of the Columbia Track Club, has seen his share of runners through the years. About 300 showed up Monday afternoon at Fourth and Cherry streets, but one runner in particular raised Hessler’s eyebrows.
Nicole Mello, 12, of Columbia, was the second-fastest female in the run, finishing in 18 minutes, 55 seconds.
“Unbelievable for her age,” Hessler said.
“This one was my best time, so I’m very proud,” Nicole said.
She said she began running in 2006 and placed second in the USA Track & Field National Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships on Dec. 8 in Lawrence, Kan.
“This is my favorite kind of race,” she said. “I love it when it’s bad weather.”
Her father, Cesar Mello, and sister were also in the 5K run.
Track Club President Linda LaFontaine called Mello “a really good runner” with a future in competition.
“She’s going to run for the Olympics some day,” LaFontaine said.
The top finishers were: Stephen Macintyre, 15 minutes, 3 seconds; Timothy Dunne, 15 minutes, 25 seconds; Sam Masters, 15 minutes, 32 seconds; Daniel Gale, 15 minutes, 38 seconds; Eric Bunch 16 minutes, 1 second.
Hessler, who calls himself an “old-school runner,” said more is at stake in the 5K, held in conjunction with First Night Columbia festivities, than the finish times.
“Mostly, it’s preparation for the new year,” he said. “People get in to have a good time with their friends and family.”
As he pressed a timer with his gloved hands for each runner crossing the finish line, he said: “I’d rather run than stand here.”