Buckshot's Big Birthday

Eau Claire’s original run celebrates 35 years helping Special Olympics

Haley Wright, photos by Kelsey Smith |

FURIOUS FEET ROCKING THE CONCRETE. Runners participate in the 2016 Buckshot Run in Eau Claire’s Carson Park.
FURIOUS FEET ROCKING THE CONCRETE. Runners participate in the 2016 Buckshot Run in Eau Claire’s Carson Park.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the Buckshot Run – an event that originated in the Chippewa Valley, is exclusive to the Chippewa Valley, and is named after a Chippewa Valley notable. The anniversary is cause for special celebration – including cake! – but the focus of the run (held in Carson Park on Aug. 29 and Sept. 2) remains on supporting Special Olympics in and around the Valley.

According to Karen Kraus, regional director of development for Special Olympics Wisconsin, the Buckshot Run is special for a number of reasons, including its local roots and the fact it is still growing and thriving 35 years later. While it is a no-frills, family-friendly event, it has something to offer for those who just want to casually walk a couple of miles as well as for serious competitors looking to run a marathon-qualifying event. (There are actually three runs: The 5-mile main event on Sept. 2 and 2-mile races on Aug. 29 and Sept. 2.)

“In 1982 Ron Buckli, a sports writer for the Leader-Telegram, pitched the idea of holding a running race in Eau Claire to raise money for Special Olympics Wisconsin,” Kraus explained. Bob Lesniewski, the Special Olympics’ area director at the time, embraced the idea, and the run was born.

“It’s appropriately named because Ron’s nickname is Buckshot and, to this day, Ron and his entire family participate,” Kraus continued. “In the early ’80s the Buckshot was the only run in town and it grew quickly from a small community event to one that now draws an average of 1,500 participants from multiple states. As a marathon-qualifying event, the run is tough enough for hard-core competitors yet fun for those looking to enjoy Carson Park and support a great cause. For a fundraising event to sustain 35 years of competition is a true testament to community service.”

By sticking to tradition and keeping the Buckshot a simple, no-frills event, the Special Olympics has been able to put almost every dollar raised by the run toward its athletes. “The Labor Day weekend event is intended to bring families together for a last summer hurrah while supporting hundreds of local Special Olympians who may have no social or health outlet other than (Special Olympics),” Kraus said. “It also proves, in a world full of technology and short attention spans, people of all ages can have fun with nothing more than the beautiful outdoors, food, music, and each other.”

For those who have attended or participate in previous years, they will recognize the “Originals,” a group of men who have run the event every year for the past 35 years (and generally don their shirts from the first race for the event), and will also get to enjoy cake in celebration of the 35th anniversary of the event.

Kraus says it’s the enthusiasm for supporting Special Olympics that keeps people coming back. “I think seeing the reunions that happen at Buckshot, the stories told year after year, and the Special Olympians giving high-fives at the finish line are what keeps people coming back. I just hope folks who haven’t experienced the Buckshot sign up and find out what all the fun and fundraising is about.” 

Kraus noted that it is no surprise the Buckshot Run, an event exclusive to the Chippewa Valley, has been successful for the past 35 years; she said support for Special Olympics from the Chippewa Valley has been amazing, and that there is always room for more for those looking to give their time or money to Special Olympics.

One may be surprised to learn about how many local athletes benefit from this support. “In the 18 counties my region covers there are more than 1,000 athletes, most of whom live in the Chippewa Valley,” Kraus said. “Special Olympics statewide serves 10,000 athletes. Our program offers 18 sports and participation is year-round.

She continued: “We are very fortunate to live and work in a generous and supportive community. The Chippewa Valley has embraced our program and our athletes in a way that inspires me. We are in a big world, with many, many very worthy causes, and knowing people choose to give their money and/or time to Special Olympics is humbling. Our athletes are not just competing in sports. They’re also learning about team work, patience, empathy, healthy lifestyles, trust, following rules, self-confidence, and so many other life skills.”

To learn more about the event, or how you can get involved with Special Olympics Wisconsin, visit