It wasn’t billed as the biggest athletic event of the year, but it should have been.
Before a cheering crowd of more than 500 at Cal State Fullerton on Wednesday, students and faculty competed in a homecoming race atop 7 1/2-foot-tall, 8,000-pound Asian elephants.
The second annual Homecoming Week event pitted various campus organizations against each other in timed sprints across a soccer field in the middle of the campus. Three playful pachyderms--Dixie, Kitty and Ty--rented from Have Trunk, Will Travel, a Perris animal-handling firm, poked their trunks at curious contestants while they waited under cloudless skies for the noon races to begin.
Senior Debra Walters, 21, won the first heat for the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority. Afterward, she described what it’s like to be a jockey on a jumbo.
“Oooh, it was bumpy. It was a bumpy ride but it was fun. They run even faster than I thought they could go,” Walters said. She also disclosed an elephant racing tip for others: “Hold on for dear life.”
During each of the four heats, members of the crowd cheered from behind orange pylons and yellow police tape on the edges of the field on the Performing Arts Center lawn. As the sharp crack of the starter’s pistol echoed across the campus, the three elephants lumbered forward, their heads bobbing with each quick stride.
Clutching red steel harnesses, lone riders in shorts and sweat shirts bounced and shouted encouragement as their teammates ran in front of the pachyderms, enticing them forward with fists full of raw carrots and apples.
Junior Laurel Munson, 20, said that climbing atop the elephant, which towered over her, was “scary but fun. Mine tried to eat my shoe.”
But at the end of the race, in which Kitty and she finished second, “I hugged her trunk to say ‘congratulations’ and ‘good job,’ ” Munson said. Kitty rested her trunk on Munson’s shoulder in response, “as if to say ‘OK.’ ” And even the elephants appeared to have fun “because they got food at the end.”
Senior Michele Bonnet, 20, said her favorite part was seeing Munson bouncing atop the pachyderm and “just watching the expression on her face. She was very excited to be up there.”
A fraternity and campus program team won first place with a time of 48 seconds. And although CSUF President Milton A. Gordon tied for second place in the third race, event coordinator Wendi Eiland, 21, called his handling of the elephant “masterful.”
“He rode it like a pro,” she said.
ASB President Vitthara Tan also competed and had the aches to prove it.
“After you get off, you’re painful right here and right here,” he said slapping the inside of his thighs.