GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Memories from the past four decades went running right by the Willey family on Sunday morning.
There were the teachers who worked with Bob Willey when he was a drama teacher and counselor. There were the actors who were in full costume, which stood as a reminder of all of the theatrical productions of which the longtime Glenwood Springs resident had been a part.
Then there were the runners, who delivered a big turnout for the inaugural Willey Coyote 5K in West Glenwood. All told, 270 people registered for a race that was named for a man who’s lasting impression has extended far beyond the boundaries of a race course.
“It’s like there were all of these memories coming across the finish line,” Bob Willey’s daughter, Betsy, said. “I think he had a personal connection to everyone who was in the race today.”
Sunday’s race was put together as a fundraiser for Willey, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in April and, in late May, suffered a severe stroke that has limited his mobility and speech. Prior to that, however, the 66-year-old Willey had an active lifestyle that included running 1,200 miles annually and participating and directing theatrical productions.
Willey has also has competed in 35 of 37 runnings of the Strawberry Shortcut, an annual race in Glenwood which has drawn tens of thousands of people each year. This race didn’t draw thousands, but its turnout was far greater than the area’s typical fundraiser runs that fizzle out after one or two years after drawing small numbers in their initial runnings.
That sure wasn’t the case on Sunday, though there was fear it would turn out that way.
“We had about 80 people who had preregistered before [Sunday],” said Mike Schneiter, Glenwood Springs High School’s cross country coach who helped organize the race along with Glenwood Springers track and field club coach Abbey Walters. “She asked me early this morning if I thought we would get anyone here.”
Her question was answered right away, as more than two-thirds of the race’s entrants signed up Sunday morning at the race site.
“That tells me just how much Bob means to this community,” said Josh Hejtmanek, who posted a winning time of 18 minutes, 56.1 seconds on a 5K course that was predominantly uphill in the first half of the course. “It’s a real testament to what kind of a guy Bob is.”
The initial stages of the race weren’t organized until the second week of June when Willey was only a week removed from his stroke. The race course was easy to figure out, as it’s the same course that Willey had logged thousands of miles on over the years. It runs up Mitchell Creek Road north of West Glenwood before it looped back to that start/finish line in the Glenwood Springs Middle School parking lot.
All proceeds from race-registration fees will go toward helping pay medical bills for Willey, who has been at Heritage Park Care Center in Carbondale since the stroke. The Glenwood Springs Elks Lodge No. 2286, of which Willey is a member, also pitched in with a $10 per plate brunch after the race.
Hejtmanek, who’s from New Castle and is the runaway leader in this year’s Colorado River Valley Charity Race Series, won by nearly a full minute over second-place Cody Sedbrook. Thirty-nine-year-old Nathan Kirkland was third in 19:47.40, and 10-year-old Reid Swanson was fourth and just three-tenths of the second behind Kirkland. Morgan Hill, 25, was the fastest female with a time of 23:43.80.
Sunday’s race, however, was more about the people there and the person it was for. Among the people there was Suzy Alcott, who joined during Halloween ghost walks done annually in October by the Frontier Historical Society. On Sunday, she was dressed as Ella Barlow, who was instrumental in bringing a post office to Glenwood Springs in the early 1880s. Willey, in turn, played a gravedigger on the route.
Alcott was one of many people who attended but didn’t race, and she was also one of the many people who dressed in costume. As an exception, one race participant, 54-year-old Glenwood resident Martin Pearson, had his daughter, Josi, draw a not-so-permanent Wiley E. Coyote tattoo on his right shoulder for the race.
And overall, the massive turnout was just a reminder of how many good memories Bob Willey has been part of in Glenwood Springs and beyond.
“This is wonderful,” Willey’s wife, Michele, said. “I can’t believe the support everyone has given us. It just shows how much [Bob] means to everyone here.”