As I chiseled a sheet of ice from the rental windshield in a Liberal, Kansas hotel parking lot, I muttered an early morning mantra:
“Crappy weather makes for killer photos. Crappy weather makes for killer photos. Crappy weather…”
Yeah, it was cold. And ugly. And unbeknownst to me, I had lost an hour driving from Denver to Liberal. (Thanks iPhone!) So I was really running an hour late for the early morning activities of the 62nd Annual International Pancake Day races.
Turned out that the freezing rain/hail caused the organizers to cancel the kid races and the parade. That made me early for the 11:55 a.m. main race. I spent that time wandering around downtown Liberal, distracting myself from the cold by taking photos.
Oddly enough, this was my second visit to Liberal. The first time, it was for the annual cow chip throwing contest in nearby Beaver, Oklahoma in early 2007 (before the creation of this rambling blog).
It was one of my first Weird Sports adventures. Had a great time, though it doesn’t look like any of the selects will make the book edit. It’s alright, it got my wheels rolling on this project, got me in the frame of mind to take photos for myself and live a little.
Funny how two wonderfully weird sports are separated by only 37 miles in this rural part of the States.
I eventually made my way to the Faith Tabernacle Church, where the men and women were staying warm and stretching out before the race. It was also a chance for the women to practice flipping flapjacks, which they must do at the start and finish of the race. In attendance were Miss Liberal, Miss Kansas AND Miss Southwest Kansas.
Sunflower State, represent!
Ok, the backstory to the race:
The Pancake Race tradition dates back more than 500 years to 1445 in Olney, England. A woman engrossed in using up cooking fats (forbidden during Lent) was making pancakes. Hearing the church bells ring calling everyone to the shriving service, she grabbed her head scarf (required in church) and ran to the church, skillet and pancake in hand and still apron-clad. In following years, neighbors got into the act and it became a race to see who could reach the church first and collect a “Kiss of Peace” from the verger (bell-ringer.) The kiss is still the traditional prize in both races.
Racers today must still wear a head scarf and apron and the runner must flip her pancake at the starting signal, and again after crossing the finish line, to prove she still has her pancake.
In 1950, the Liberal Jaycee prez contacted folks in Olney, challenging them to an international race. It’s been going on – hell or high water or freezing rain – ever since.
Women will race a 415-yard course in both Liberal and Olney at the same time, though the local time is separated by 6 hours. Afterwards, race times will be compared and an international winner will be crowned via Skype conference call.
After the race, Liberal winner Nicole Schowengerdt posed for photos with the Guv in the International Pancake Day Hall of Fame. Folks then walked over to the First United Methodist Church for Shriving Service. The choir was rockin’.
After the service, the finalist wandered to a back room of the church, where a Skype video conference call was set up. And this is how Nicole learned she had beat the time of the British runner and claimed international fame.
Thanks to everyone in Liberal for great energy and vibes. I’ve a feeling I’m in Kansas.