A brief encounter on a Mexican beach Leads to the Great Llama Race

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, April 2015 (Photo by Heidi Hornick)

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, April 2015 (Photo by Heidi Hornick)

Today’s article features guest writer Heidi Hornick. An experienced journalist, she’s offered to help cover some events I can’t manage to attend. This weekend, as an example, included three major events downtown: Rhythm n Blooms, the Chalk Walk and the Great Llama Race. Spread over three days, but intersecting on Saturday, the events stretched from the Old City to Market Square and the World’s Fair Park. I can’t be everywhere. As a further result of so many things happening at once in the city, I may double post today or tomorrow. A short bio follows her first article. Here’s Heidi:

The year was 1987. Lori Santoro was on vacation when a tiny child approached her. The child’s hair was matted, her little feet burning from the hot sand and, as far as Santoro could tell, the child was left alone to sell trinkets to tourists. Her name was Sara and she was four years old, the child told her. Santoro snapped a photo of Sara, stuffed money into the child’s bag and then helplessly watched as the child quickly disappeared.

Erin Donovan of Visit Knoxville, with her llama, gets ready to race against Marc Anthony of Star 102.1 and others. (Photo Heidi Hornick)

Erin Donovan of Visit Knoxville, with her llama, gets ready to race against Marc Anthony of Star 102.1 and others. (Photo Heidi Hornick)

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, April 2015 (Photo by Heidi Hornick)

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, April 2015 (Photo by Heidi Hornick)

Marc Anthony of Star 102.1 with his West High School llama. (Photo Heidi Hornick)

Marc Anthony of Star 102.1 with his West High School llama. (Photo Heidi Hornick)

Years later, Santoro and her husband traveled to Bolivia to adopt their first child. Although it was a joyous occasion, she was shocked by the conditions the children lived in. She was reminded of Sara. As she wrote on her website, Casa de Sara, on that fateful day on a Mexican beach, several years before, Santoro had vowed to help the “Saras” of the world. This was their chance.

Rather than going home and feeling helpless, she and her husband sprang into action. With help from friends and family in the U.S., as well as support from a group of Canadian college students in Bolivia at the time, the Bolivian Symphony Orchestra and even their taxi driver, they transformed a horrific back-alley orphanage. The director was sent to jail, toilets and a kitchen installed, medical care brought in. From those beginnings, the Casa de Sara Escualita – or little school – began in La Guardia, Bolivia, along with other programs to help area schools and communities.

WBIR news anchor Robin Wilhoit discusses the race with organizer Lori Santoro.

WBIR news anchor Robin Wilhoit discusses the race with organizer Lori Santoro.

Sharlyn Chrisman (left) and her husband Blane Chrisman of Radius Homes, presenting sponsor of the event, with race founder Lori Santoro. (Photo by Heidi Hornick)

Sharlyn Chrisman (left) and her husband Blane Chrisman of Radius Homes, presenting sponsor of the event, with race founder Lori Santoro. (Photo by Heidi Hornick)

Last year, as a way to continue to help fund the Bolivian programs, but also to give to East Tennessee schools, the Great Llama Race was born. Like most inaugural events, Santoro and her volunteers didn’t know what to expect and were surprised by the turnout. Saturday’s event had an even larger turnout, said volunteer Ally Ketron, pegging attendance at about 5,000 people.

An area school is paired with a local celebrity and a llama provided by Southeast Llama Rescue. Winning schools and the llama rescue group receive a percentage of funds raised. First place went to the Tennessee School for the Deaf, second place went to William Blount High School and third to West High School. There was also a parade and costume contest. West Valley Middle School won first place and Lenoir City High School came in second. Food booths, vendors — many of them llama-centric – and entertainment were also part of the event.

Great Llama Race, World's Fair Park, April 2015 (Photo by Heidi Hornick)

Great Llama Race, World’s Fair Park, April 2015 (Photo by Heidi Hornick)

Greg Hall of Simplicity Llama Farm of Mount Airy, NC makes a pet leash. (Photo by Heidi Hornick)

Greg Hall of Simplicity Llama Farm of Mount Airy, NC makes a pet leash. (Photo by Heidi Hornick)

Blane Chrisman of Radius Homes, the event’s presenting sponsor, said it comes down to giving to local schools and its students. “I’m telling you, one of these days one of these kids from one of these schools will be somebody. I do this because it always comes down to the kids. It’s all about them.”

Teresa Stewart and Carmina Rines serve up Bolivian food. (Photo by Heidi Hornick)

Teresa Stewart and Carmina Rines serve up Bolivian food. (Photo by Heidi Hornick)

April Burger and her daughter, Dora Worley, 2, enjoy the children's tent. (Photo by Heidi Hornick)

April Burger and her daughter, Dora Worley, 2, enjoy the children’s tent. (Photo by Heidi Hornick)

Heidi Hornick Bio:

Heidi Hornick originally hails from Mass. where she was a newspaper reporter for several years. There she covered small town life, everything from local politics to festivals. She was also a feature story reporter, often profiling people, causes, and local history. Everyone has an important story to tell, she believes, and she enjoys telling it.

She’s lived in Knoxville since 2005 and only regrets that she didn’t arrive earlier. “Knoxville may be a small city, but it has the feel of a large town,” she says. “The person sitting next to you at an event may not have met you, but chances are they know someone that you know.”

Heidi is the proud mom of a teen that attends a local high school.

She looks forward to telling your story.

Comments

  1. Love the pictures! Sounds like a fun event that also serves a purpose. Loved hearing about the founder’s journey!

  2. The Llama Race is a very well run event and fun to see. The llamas don’t even seem to mind wearing costumes.

  3. M. Janice Mitchell says:

    I’ve known Lori, her mom, her dad (now deceased) since Lori’s ballet-dancing days with ORCBA in Oak Ridge. She is a driven young lady and got that wonderful trait from both her parents. I’m not surprised she took the bull-by-the-horns and made something happen from a chance encounter. I attended the first Llama experience and was blown away by the attendance. Saturday was another example of the goodness in Knoxvillians’ hearts to give back. I’m proud to be a Tennessean and to know Lori and her family. If you missed it, please contribute to Casa de Sara. You will be blessed. P.S. Great write-up, Heidi. Looking forward to more from you!

    • This was the first time that I met Lori and I agree. I immediately noticed her enthusiasm and drive.

      Thank you for the kind words. I look forward to reporting for Inside of Knoxville!

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