Vidakovich column: Oh, the people you’ll meet through running
I believe I have stated in a previous column or two that I started running with a buddy back in the late summer of 1980. We used to meet at the Glenwood High School football field in the evenings a couple of times a week, and run a mile around the dirt path that circled the bleachers. There was no fancy eight lane track back then, just some worn dirt and grass. We were forced to go single file, wearing our high top basketball shoes.
Thirty-six years later, as 2016 approaches its end, I still run with that same fellow, albeit much more slowly, most every Sunday morning at various Glenwood locales. We talk about local happenings, people we know, job stuff, getting older, and the many philosophies of a distance running life.
I remember the first race we ever entered. It was a Friday night in mid-September of 1980 in Aspen. The “Take the Money and Run 10K” took us through the streets of Aspen on a perfect fall evening. That race was the first of many more to follow in the next four decades.
Now, there are races just about every weekend here in the valley, from early spring until mid-winter. Back in the beginning of my running days, there were just a handful of events to choose from, with the staples being the Strawberry Shortcut 10K, the Aspen Times 5 Mile, the Mount Sopris Runoff, and the Basalt Half Marathon. There was also a lung-searing race in Snowmass at the end of July that truly lived up to its name, the Suicide Hill Challenge. It was a heartbreaker at 8,000 feet. We never seemed to miss it though. A rite of summer, I guess you could say.
I have met so many unique people through running and racing that I can’t even begin to mention them all, though I would like to. First and foremost, I always think of seeing Paul and Jeannie Driskill at every single race. We all admiringly referred to Paul as the “Running Guru.” He was a teacher at Glenwood Elementary and would often run up to 13 miles each evening after school. Paul passed away on Christmas Eve four or five years ago. He has been sorely missed.
Many of you know what Bob “Brother” Willey meant to the entire community of Glenwood, not just the running circles. Willey called himself a junk runner, because he would run anytime, anywhere and with anyone. It was true. Willey left us way too soon for better running trails a few years ago.
I admire several of the older folks who populate my age grouping in the races. Carbondale’s Brad Palmer and Candelario DeLuera of Rifle are very talented and dedicated men, and friends, who keep getting better with age. Like many of us, they live for their daily runs. Ron Lund of Basalt has been running for what seems like forever and a day. People like Charlie Wertheim, Martin Pearson, John Stroud, Bob Dubois and Larry Thrun are just a few of the people who regularly put a beat down on me in local races. They’re all super-competitive, but they’re all super people.
Speaking of super, I met a slightly overweight man about five years back named Bob Byram. He was at a race at Two Rivers Park, and he beat me by just a little bit. I introduced myself, and he told me he had just started running after some very trying times in his life that had tested his mettle and chipped away at his spirit. As the years passed, Byram became thinner and faster, until he was near the top of most local running events. This new phenom on the racing scene was also very friendly and outgoing. I nicknamed him “Super Bob,” not just for his running ability, but for his determination to get his life back on track and be a champion, regardless of the obstacles that blocked his path.
I often run into Michelle McReynolds, who is a teacher at Glenwood Elementary. I always ask about her father, Mark McReynolds, who was a distance runner extraordinaire back in the 1990s. I still recall his toughness in the longer races and his one and only attempt at the famous Leadville Trail 100-miler. McReynolds doesn’t run much anymore due to a balky back, but around these parts, he was one of the best ever.
Maybe I saved one of the best for last in mentioning Josh Hejtmanek of New Castle. Josh usually leads the way to the finish line in many area races, but what makes him so special is how friendly he is to everyone, including us old slowpokes. At races, Hejtmanek, after finishing, will often run back on the course to cheer along those who may be struggling to finish. Very humble and genuine, Hejtmanek will carry the running torch in this valley for years to come after the rest of us have flamed out.
The running path, and the people I have met along the way, have been a memorable journey of good times and great memories on every road I have followed. I’ll keep showing up for those Sunday runs, griping about how cold it is, complaining about my knees aching or my back getting tight, whether I can afford new running shoes, or wondering if I’ll even be able to make it through another 5K race without falling apart.
Truth is, I don’t even want to think about the day I will have to stop.
Mike Vidakovich writes freelance for the post Independent.
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