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FOREST PARK, ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – Thousands of people crowded Forest Park Saturday for the 43rd annual Great Forest Park Balloon Race.  The colorful event drew 65 hot air balloons and pilots.

It also gave a 14-year-old kidney patient the ride of her life. St. Louis Children’s Hospital selected patient Danesha Hibbler of Cahokia to ride in the hospital’s balloon.  Her child life specialist Stacy Sedlack joined her.

“I  have been looking forward to it through Danesha’s eyes,” explained Sedlack who works with patients and their families to ease the experience of facing both disease and unfamiliar hospital procedures.  “Just to be able to experience it alongside her and through her has really been rewarding,” Sedlack said.

Danesha designed their costumes of pink tutus and teal blue hospital tee shirts. “We didn’t just want to wear plain jeans,” the teen said as she smiled in anticipation of the special ride.

Strong winds kept the balloonists from firing up their balloons during the traditional Balloon Glow Friday night.  But the winds dropped to an acceptable level Saturday afternoon.  The PNC Bank balloon served as the hare, taking off at 5 pm.  All but a few of the balloons met the 6:05 PM deadline for take-off.

They floated south with the hare winding up in Illinois and most of the other balloons south of the St. Louis City limits near Jefferson Barracks .

Race officials announced the winners:

1st place Jim Wolters MO lottery. 40ft

2nd place Zach Burgess Curves. 132ft

3rd place Scott Wooge Purina, 455ft