By Pati Egan

There is something about Camp Ondessonk that opens the mind to creative thought, collaboration, and a finished product that withstands the test of time. The Marathon Race is the brainchild of Dan Hechenburger.  Dan was Program Director in 1975.  Field Day and Water Carnival were getting stale and didn’t have the zip they once had. Dan wanted to create something fresh, new, and original. “I mulled over ideas and landed on the basic idea to tie all the activities together into something, since most campers spent the week, in part, working toward earning arrowheads in the activities. It didn’t take long to figure out that a relay race was the best way to tie the activities together.”

Big ideas never happen in a vacuum. Dan collaborated with staff like Bob Stowe, Gene Canavan, and Ranger Royce Reeder. It wasn’t long for the entire staff to get behind this idea. Part of the challenge was that the camp administration thought it was a crazy idea and would never work. “When I shared the idea with the entire staff, I remember making the point that the administration thought the idea would fail. That insured a strong desire from the staff to make it work.”

I remember Bob Stowe suggesting the upside-down sailboat race; The kids had to use their hands to go from the sailing area to where Lakeside is now. This was usually pretty amusing as the boat hulls did not cooperate!

Probably the most coveted job in Marathon was Pony Express rider 1 & 2.  Michelle Bretscher recalls that the first rider began in the middle of lower pasture D and ran to the gate of pasture C. The next rider would leave from there and head to the new barn – or before the new barn it was the hay shed.

Geno either came up with the idea of the saddling & horse race component or added to an initial simple horse race.

Dan felt it was important that the campers and staff would have a chance to work together to win the race. The great equalizer was an original part of the race. Originally the camper was given a little tag (later chips) that they must put into a container of some sort – designed by the Unit Leader and campers. 

This was in the beginning of girl’s camp – notice just a manilla envelope is being used to collect chips.

The race was broadcast “live” over our two-way walkie-talkies hooked up to the main camp speakers. 

By the end of the summer, milk cartons, pringles cans, and old containers from the kitchen were the norm for placing the chips. Chips were counted in the Program Office after all units completed the race. The winner was announced at dinner.

The camper had to put their chip into the container and hand it off to the next camper.  The winning unit not only had to be first on the canoeing beach but also have all of their chips. This made the race fair for the units that had the younger campers. The winner was the unit that not only had all their chips but also made it to the canoeing area.  A few times the unit that came in 4th, 5th, and 6th scored 1st, 2nd, and 3rd  because the units ahead of them lost chips.  

Thus, the Marathon Race was born from one person having an idea and working as a staff team creating something amazingly awesome. The new Marathon is different – sorry kids, no Pony Express Riders, no stripped boats, boondoggle instead of nailing – I don’t believe chips are used. Our unit leaders didn’t run the race with the kids, and we did not dress up unless you want to count the time Claire Hatch spraypainted her clothes gold for her 50th marathon or Amy Menard’s special marathon shorts, but it is still the highlight of the week and the campers are as enthused today as campers were in 1975.    

This is the route of the original race:

Pony Express Riders 1 & 2

Pony Express Relay Runner

Sack Racer

2-Armed Racer

Pasture Relay Runner

Nail Pounder (Handicrafts)

Surprise in Le Coeur

Word Finder at the Office

Fire Starter Runner

Camp Fire Builder in the Grotto

Grotto Relay Runner

Crab Walking Swimmer

Swimming Relay Runner

Sailboats Stripped Bare

Garner Relay Runner

Row Boating with no Oars

Spillway Runner

Canoe Team

Canoe Team lands at the Canoeing Beach – turns in chips, puts away the canoe, hangs up their life jacket.

The Finished Project!

This was created pre-copy machines.  A mimeograph machine used the same master sheet week after week and year after year.

The race started with all campers and staff assembled in the main area.


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