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Rain didn't dampen enthusiasm for participants at Saturday's Princess Warrior 5K

The 11th Annual Princess Warrior 5K brought out hundreds of Wadena area residents to honor the memory of Jane Fiemeyer, the original "Princess Warrior" who died from leukemia in 2012, when she was just 8 years old.

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Hundreds of Wadena-area residents took part in the 11th Annual Princess Warrior 5K on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, beginning and ending their three-mile journey at Tapley Park.
Vicki Gerdes / Wadena Pioneer Journal
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WADENA — Rain may have darkened the skies above Tapley Park at intermittent intervals on Saturday, Sept. 24, but it didn't seem to dampen the spirits of the participants in the 11th Annual Princess Warrior 5K Run, Walk, Roll, Stroll or Crawl.

"It was a wonderful turnout," said Jil Fiemeyer, the mother of the original "Princess Warrior," Jane Fiemeyer, who died from leukemia in 2012, when she was just eight years old.

Though the final tally of participants has not yet been determined (more than 350 pre-registrations were recorded, but same-day signups were also encouraged), Fiemeyer noted that "the energy was higher than it's ever been."

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Miss Wadena 2022, Grace Gallant, made a furry friend at Saturday's Princess Warrior 5K event in Wadena's Tapley Park. Several visiting "princess warriors" graced the event, including the reigning Miss Minnesota.
Vicki Gerdes / Wadena Pioneer Journal

In fact, she added, if rain hadn't put an end to the post-5K festivities, "I'm not sure some of those kids would ever have left. There was an incredible energy that was just so Jane-like."

Because the event is open to everyone, whether they choose to use their own feet, strollers, wheelchairs, roller blades or bikes to complete the three-mile course, the timer that stood next to the start/finish line was purely for the participants' own use, Fiemeyer said, so there was no official award or prize for those who finished at the front of the pack.

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This banner greeted visitors to Wadena's Tapley Park on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, for the start of the 11th Annual Princess Warrior 5K. The annual event drew hundreds of participants from around the area.
Vicki Gerdes / Wadena Pioneer Journal

"Jane didn't want anyone who couldn't run to not be able to participate," she said, explaining the event's "Run, Walk, Roll, Stroll or Crawl" tagline.

In fact, Jane's vision for the event has been paramount in its planning since it began more than a decade ago, when a group of students at Wadena-Deer Creek "sat down right after Jane died and planned the event she had outlined from her hospital bed," Fiemeyer said.

Proceeds from that event helped to establish the Princess Warrior Foundation , which raises funds to help realize Jane's dream of finding a cure for cancer, "so that others wouldn't have to experience the pain and sadness that comes with a cancer diagnosis," said Fiemeyer.

The foundation also works to let other kids who have cancer know they and their families have support, both financially and emotionally, she added. Each year, a group of area children living with the disease are honored as "Cancer Heroes" during the 5K event.

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This year's nine "Cancer Heroes" posed with about a half dozen "Princess Warriors" — including the reigning Miss Minnesota, Rachel Evangelisto — and organizers of the annual 5K at the start of the run on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022 at Tapley Park in Wadena.
Vicki Gerdes / Wadena Pioneer Journal

Nine children, from the Wadena, Perham, Staples and Bertha-Hewitt area, were honored this year. The "Cancer Heroes" ranged in age from as young as 2 to as old as 19, Fiemeyer added.

Those who didn't want to take part in the actual event could also get involved through volunteering, she said, whether to help with set up and take-down or to hand out cookies and water to participants along the route, or even to cheer them on at various points along the way.

"It takes a lot of people to put this event on," Fiemeyer said.

And those who wanted to participate in the run, but couldn't make it to Saturday's event, had a "virtual" option of completing a 5K run at a date and time of their own choosing. "We started doing that even before COVID (happened)," said Fiemeyer.

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One of the attendees at Saturday's event was the reigning Miss Minnesota, Rachel Evangelisto, who revealed in her remarks at the start of the race that she had lost a younger sister to cancer — specifically, leukemia, which was what also claimed Jane's life in 2012.

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The reigning Miss Minnesota, Rachel Evangelisto, was one of several visiting "princesses" at Saturday's Princess Warrior 5K event. She enjoyed riding in what one volunteer called "the Wadena limo" to help cheer on the 5K participants on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022.
Vicki Gerdes / Wadena Pioneer Journal

Fiemeyer said that particular moment created a "bittersweet" bond between Evangelisto and her own daughters, Katie and Anna, who have been an integral part of the planning for their sister's namesake event since its inception.

After the last participant crossed the finish line, most chose to stay for the after-run festivities, which included a kids' carnival, bouncy houses, face painting and a hot dog lunch served up by the Wadena Lions.

"It was just a really fun day, even if the rain did cut it a little short," Fiemeyer said.

A reporter at Detroit Lakes Newspapers since relocating to the community in October 2000, Vicki was promoted to Community News Lead for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and Perham Focus on Jan. 1, 2022. She has covered pretty much every "beat" that a reporter can be assigned, from county board and city council to entertainment, crime and even sports. Born and raised in Madelia, Minnesota, she is a graduate of Hamline University, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in English literature (writing concentration). You can reach her at vgerdes@dlnewspapers.com.
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