ORONO, Maine — “Say wheeee!” a volunteer with Insane Inflatables told participants in the Insane Inflatable 5K Saturday morning as they hurtled down the tall slide that marked the end of a challenge that was part obstacle course, footrace and fundraiser.
Insane Inflatables came to the University of Maine campus to help raise funds for the American Cancer Society.
About 620 people signed up for the about 3.1-mile event presented by Quirk Auto Group, according to Alexa Cole, a Florida resident who works for Insane Inflatables, which bills itself as the world’s largest and most extreme inflatable obstacle course ever produced.
Jennifer Lizotte of Sullivan, who graduated from UMaine nine years ago, was back at her alma mater to take part in the event.
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“I always enjoy coming back here, and I’ve been competing in a lot of obstacle races lately over the summer, so I’m just trying to get back into running, and it’s for a great benefit,” she said.
“It was great. It was so much fun,” Lizotte said.
She participated as part of a team made up of about eight mostly nurses from Maine Coast Memorial Hospital, where Lizotte is an Intensive Care Unit nurse.
To Lizotte, perhaps the trickiest aspect of facing down the inflatables was that the dew that accumulated on them overnight hadn’t yet dried off when she went through the course.
“It was hard to climb up to the top of them,” Lizotte said with a laugh.
Jim and Danita Gilbert traveled from Wilton to Orono to cheer their son and daughter on. They turned up with their son’s girlfriend, Renee Solis.
Danita Gilbert said their son, Alex Gilbert, is a UMaine engineering student who was challenged to enter by their daughter, Abbey Gilbert, who lives in Ellsworth and works at KidsPeace.
“She wanted her brother to do this with her,” she said. “There are just the two of them. They’re doing it together.”
During the event, runners entered the course in five “waves” that departed every half-hour beginning at 8:30 p.m. While there was no minimum age requirement, runners had to be at least 42 inches tall, according to the event’s website.
Along the way, the runners were encountered by 10 inflatable structures — each with a different challenge requiring participants to climb, jump, make their way through a pile of giant beachballs and slide, among other things.
While there weren’t winners in the traditional sense, each participant received a medal and T-shirt as well as well-earned bragging rights.
Nine women who joined as a team were meeting in person for the first time. They said they belong to a Facebook fitness support group that has members from Portland to East Millinocket. They signed up for the last wave, which departed at 10:30 a.m.
Mike Trafton of the American Cancer Society said that the money raised on Saturday will be divided among several area Relay for Life events. He expected that about $1,000 would be collected.