Strawberry Shortcut: No shortage of memories for Willey
Post Independent Sports Editor
What: Strawberry Shortcut 10K and 5K
When: 7 a.m. Sunday for 10K, 8:15 a.m. for 5K.
Where: Both races begin at Centennial Park in Glenwood Springs.
Information: Kevin White, 970-366-9875.
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Bob Willey has seen it all, and he has the clips to prove it.
He’s seen the Strawberry Shortcut practically from its advent in 1978, and saw it balloon from a 232-runner, 10-kilometer field in its inaugural year to a total field of 1,325 in 1990 with the addition of the 5K two years earlier.
He’s seen Olympic-caliber runners, people who have dominated the field for years and runners who have come back with the sole purpose of just beating their own times. And all of those names are nice and snug in a binder he’s kept, which is full of notes and newspaper clippings from every Strawberry Shortcut ever run.
To the 65-year-old Willey, keeping records of the race isn’t just a hobby. It’s a passion which came with a purpose.
“I started announcing the race in 1987, and I did it for 25 years straight,” said Willey, who officially was the master of ceremonies for the race. “While I was announcing results, I wanted to know exactly who I was talking about, if they’ve been here before or even if they’ve run in the Boulder Boulder. That way, I could acknowledge the racers, both locally and state wide.
“I felt like it’s the duty of the MC to know what the hell he’s talking about,” he continued. “When a kid like Jason Graham shows up and it’s his sixth win and a new announcer doesn’t know him from [expletive], that’s embarrassing. Saying things like ‘Hey, Jason Graham, welcome back. Congratulations on your sixth win in the 5K,’ that’s special to them.”
No doubt, Willey is able to drop nearly any recognizable name who has run in the Shortcut, which will run for the 36th time Sunday morning. Registrations will be held at the site of the race’s title sponsor, The Bank of Colorado, at 901 Grand Ave. in Glenwood Springs, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. In-person registrations will continue at Centennial Park in Glenwood Springs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
Putting all of those clips together wasn’t easy, though. Willey was able to piece together newspaper clips from each of the races, then had help from Myka Yellico — the wife of former race director Jim Yellico — in organizing it.
And while he’s served as the unofficial record keeper of the race, this year will mark the 34th consecutive year Willey has run the Shortcut. The previous record for longevity belonged to Paul Driskill, who had run in the race every year but one up until his death on Dec. 24, 2010.
“When I gave the awards out, I wanted to know all about it and know all of the history of the race,” Willey said with a smile. “Now, I’m almost trapped to not show up again the next year.
“I happen to like Strawberry Days, too, so we stick around afterward,” he continued. “But it’s been a commitment, and I praise the Lord that I’ve never been injured.”
Willey was one of the busiest people at the race when he did announce it. After he finished running, he’d have a limited amount of time to talk with other runners before he had to find his paperwork to begin announcing runners and handing out awards. Then after Jim Yellico gave up his duties as race director, Willey scaled back so he could simply run the race without the extra duties.
Of course, Willey has run with all of the notable people who have run in the race. One was Stan Mavis, the winner of the 1981 Shortcut who was part of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team which boycotted the Moscow Games. Another was Julie Benzel, who won the women’s race from 1982 to 86 and did it as Julie Foster the final year. There was also Dan Hostager, who won both the 10K and 5K in 1991 and 92.
And he can obviously remember his times. His personal-best time in the 5K was 18 minutes, 34 seconds in 1988, with a 37:45 in the 10K coming in 1986.
“That was the year of my 20th high school reunion,” Willey recalled. “I was pretty proud of that time. But if you look here [in 2010], it would have been fifth overall. That year, it was seventh in just the 30-year-old age group.
“But I’m not worried about that too much anymore,” he continued. “Right now my goal is simply longevity, and I’m just happy to still be doing this.”
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