By Steve Jordon
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER
With gray skies and a 42-degree temperature in downtown Omaha, Warren Buffett climbed a platform in his Brooks running gear Sunday morning, ready to pop the starter’s pistol for the inaugural Berkshire Hathaway Invest in Yourself 5K run.
About 2,000 people, mostly from out of town and many of them making their first run, lined up outside the CenturyLink Center Omaha as Ann Wessling handed Buffett the microphone she had been using to pump up the crowd.
“I’d like to be down there running with you, ha-ha-ha,” Buffett said, as a breeze ruffled his hair. “Next year I’ll be ready for you. I’m not quite tuned up.”
Buffett, 82, said Berkshire will hold the race “for decades to come, and I’ll be here every time.”
More cheers from the runners as Buffett and Wessling jogged in place and then danced as race time approached. Berkshire Hathaway added the race this year as an extra activity for the morning after its annual shareholders meeting.
Steve Cacioppo, who works in Douglas County’s information systems division, strapped a small camera onto his stocking cap to record the race from the runner’s perspective for the video that will be shown at next year’s Berkshire meeting.
Jeff Meeks sang the national anthem, Buffett pulled the trigger, a recorded Mick Jagger kicked into “Start Me Up” and the race was on, with Buffett high-fiving competitors as they passed by.
Fifteen minutes and 50 seconds later, Omaha Central High School health teacher Matt Pohren, 28, crossed the finish line outside TD Ameritrade Park. Race organizers the Competition Group had set up a “finishers festival” with refreshments, music and a double-decker bus decorated for race sponsor Brooks Sports, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway.
At 19 minutes, 45 seconds, speech therapist Michaela Van der Westhuizen, also 28 and of Omaha, was the first woman to finish.
It was a Buffett-related finish: His children graduated from Pohren’s school, and Van der Westhuizen’s best friend is Carrie Sova, the Berkshire home office staffer who organizes the Berkshire meeting and related events.
Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire, gave the winners crystal trophies, posed for photos with individual and team winners and then took off in a golf cart for the rest of the day’s activities.
Pohren said the downtown course, which wound down toward the Missouri River, was toughest heading up a hill toward Central High and around the Civic Auditorium, just as a crisp breeze kicked up. The last leg, east on Mike Fahey Street, was downhill, and some runners put on a full sprint to the finish line.
A collection of Berkshire executives, including Brooks CEO Jim Weber, completed the course. Although many of the runners in the region were at the annual half-marathon race in Lincoln, Weber said he was pleased with the turnout and looking forward to next year. “It’ll grow,” he said.
Berkshire investment officers Todd Combs (21 minutes, 30 seconds) and Ted Weschler (under 23 minutes) both wore finisher medals. Combs said maybe next year’s event could include a 10K, just for extra fun.
By 9:15 a.m., the award ceremony was over. Back at the finish line, the race clock read 1:23:50 when Glenn Reinke of Dublin, Calif., and family members walked in as a group, the last finishers before workers began disassembling the electronic timing equipment.
Said Reinke: “It was great.”
The Omaha World-Herald Co. is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1080, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/buffettOWH