Third Dirty Bird takes place Saturday

Published 8:15 am Thursday, April 10, 2014

Southwestern Michigan College’s third annual Dirty Bird race will take place on Saturday. (Submitted photo)

Southwestern Michigan College’s third annual Dirty Bird race will take place on Saturday. (Submitted photo)

Dirty Bird, Southwestern Michigan College’s 3.78-mile, 19-obstacle slog at 10 a.m. April 12 offers a festive feel to mitigate mercurial Michigan’s mud.

Teams of three, four and five with colorful names — bright orange “Kansas State Penitentiary Badminton Club” won in 2013 from 89 teams — race in two tiers through challenging “Survivor”-style balance beams, hurdles, back crawls, a tire pendulum, drain pipes, even a new spider web.

Those needing motivation to set them in motion through the mire can turn to inspirational remarks by Bernard Thomas, who coached the 1990 Dowagiac football team to a state title.

The festive feel comes from a major tweak. The third annual race begins and ends between the residence halls and Student Activity Center, like the Turkey Trot, which means the new reversed course circles the Dowagiac campus clockwise.

An elite team completed last year’s five-mile course in 47:49, though it took a quartet costumed as Kiss 70 minutes.

Justice League was declared the “dirtiest birds.”

The new layout creates an “excitement zone,” with a live band led by adjunct instructor George Field, Dowagiac barber Benny Peters cutting Mohawks, keg rolling at cardboard cutouts and brunch fare such as French toast sticks, doughnuts and hot chocolate sold by a student club, Advocates for All.

There will be two divisions, eagle, a chip-timed race for experienced competitors, and hawk, a flight for the more casual crowd.

Those who sandbagged trail terrain last April will find themselves toting logs.

Dr. Scott Topping, dean of arts and sciences, an Army veteran and a second-time competitor, dubs the Dirty Bird “a series of 100- to 200-yard runs separated by fun. You don’t have to be a runner to do it. It’s very, very cold and very, very muddy, so you feel like you’ve accomplished something after you finish. Memories are made.

“We’re supposed to have our best weather in seven months,” Topping said. “My team passed probably 12 teams in the woods. If my team is passing, I’m thinking some people came to walk, go through the obstacles and have fun, like the Color Run of mud runs. It’s so early in the season, who’s been able to train outside? To me, the major obstacles were always unpredictable weather and that side of the woods, with more hills than there should be in Michigan.”

Organizers emphasize teamwork. Participants must finish together after collaborating to navigate obstacles.

“SMC really tries to promote student life,” according to Andrew Churchill, Ferris State University admissions advisor based on SMC’s Dowagiac campus.

The Marcellus High School graduate deployed to Iraq for 18 months with the Army in 2007-2009.

“We love giving students good opportunities to experience different things, but also, proceeds from the run support a scholarship for military students,” Churchill said.

Two previous boot-camp bivouacs generated $14,000.

Six students benefited each year — four for $1,000 and two for $1,500.

“As a veteran myself,” Churchill said, “I used the GI Bill, but we’ve found that a lot of students have difficulty supporting their families and going to school fulltime. In our area, the GI Bill pays about $1,000 a month while in school, which is a great educational benefit, but imagine if you have three kids, a spouse who’s not working and trying to live on that. So they go to school part-time and work part-time, which dramatically decreases the likelihood of them going on to earn a bachelor’s degree, which is important for sustainable economic growth in our area.”

Organizers also pay tribute to veterans by allowing participants to create free honor banners for family and friends who served in the armed forces.

It costs $90 for a three-person team, $120 for a four-person team and $150 for a five-person team, though registration is free to SMC students.

Race-day registration in person will be available prior to the start, from 8 to 10 a.m. on Saturday at the Student Activity Center, with credit cards accepted. Online registration ends at noon on Friday. T-shirts will be available race day for $10.

See for more information.