Jerry Harland and Chandra Cooksey transform into King and Queen Ooga Booga, who greet Hannibal Cannibal participants atop Lover's Leap.
Jerry Harland undergoes a drastic transformation once every year.
The director of facilities at Hannibal Regional Hospital takes on the role of a costumed character who greets runners atop Lover's Leap, the steepest hill on the route of the Hannibal Cannibal.
He becomes the mythical King Ooga Booga.
“What I tell everyone is it's all downhill from here,” Harland said.
There is more to his role in the annual Hannibal Regional Foundation fundraiser — a 5/10/15K run and 5K walk — than what may reach the surface.
The 49-year-old is best known by participants as his alter ego, but he also puts in hours behind the scenes transporting equipment, setting up communication systems and posting signs along the route.
He is one of approximately 200 volunteers who pitched in to facilitate the 23rd edition of the event Saturday morning, which drew upward of 1,000 participants and raised more than $52,000 to expand surgical capacities.
“I'm going to do this as long as they want me to,” said Harland, who has dressed as the Cannibal for six years. “But this is not just about one person. We've got hundreds of volunteers. We've got volunteers at every intersection.”
Harland arrived at the top of the infamous hill about an hour before the race. There he joined Chandra Cooksey as well as a group of volunteers who set up a water station.
Cooksey, a Palmyra native who is an administrative assistant at the hospital, served alongside Harland as Queen Ooga Booga.
“A lot of people say we make it worth it to come up the hill,” said Cooksey, in her fourth year playing the queen. “I didn't know what I was getting into, but it's a lot of fun. It's kind of a tradition now.”
Harland and Cooksey are primarily figureheads during the race.
They smile as participants pass by and often offer high-fives and voice their support.
Sometimes they're heckled.
Sometimes they're the hecklers.
They are so popular they have their own photographer to take cell phone pictures upon request.
"'You know that guy who dresses up on top of the hill?'” Harland said he often asks people leading up to the race. “They will say, 'Yeah, yeah, that's the Cannibal.' And I say, 'Well, that's me, so look for me when you're up there.'”
The race is the only time each year the pair plans to dress in their costumes in public. But they continually look for ways to improve their getups and new methods to help advertise the race.
“We take lots of pregame pictures,” Cooksey said. “We'll put our stuff on and encourage people on Facebook and Snapchat.”
This year, several additional “Cannibals” were added, motivating and jeering runners along Main Street near the finish line.
The fictional characters created a unique atmosphere for runners like Clifton Anders, who Harland wrapped his arm around for the final stretch of the climb up Lover's Leap.
Being the king has led to some memorable experiences for Harland. Someone once asked to kiss his cheek.
“Just had to get it over with,” he recalled with a laugh.