The first e-mail I ever received from Rebecca Thomason had just 18 words in it, but included an exclamation point, two smiley faces, and one word that was all caps and had six "O"s when just two would have sufficed.
The first time I "met" her, while running the Yiasou Greek Festival 5K this past August, she was cheering for me (and many others) from a sidewalk in East Boulevard in Dilworth, clapping her hands, shouting my name, and -- to my surprise -- pronouncing it correctly.
I'd come to learn that these little glimpses of Rebecca Thomason personify her: She's warm, friendly, informal, supportive; she's someone who can make you feel in an instant like you've been friends for years.
She's also quite fast. A model of consistency, the effervescent 38-year-old blonde won the King Tiger 5K in June in 19:18; went out shortly thereafter with a stress fracture in her foot; won the Hit the Brixx 5K in 19:19 in her first race back this past September; and last month won the Dowd YMCA 5K in 19:20. She also won the LungStrong 5K, the stroller division of the Runway 5K, and was the fifth overall woman at the Charlotte Turkey Trot 8K, which was run by more than 3,700 people.
But Rebecca Thomason is not my 2009 Runner of the Year just because she's nice, or just because she's fast. I know plenty of nice runners, plenty of fast ones, plenty who are both nice and fast. What puts Rebecca a cut above the rest is her complete and utter selflessness when it comes to running, when it comes to those in the running community. It's her passion, quite simply, for stoking the passion of runners around her.
Wrote one nominator: "She ... welcomes runners at all times by keeping water -- and Propel! -- on her porch, and is one of the best cheerleaders both on and off the roads." Wrote another: "She has a neighborhood running group in [Dilworth]. She is the hostess for the legendary 'Beer Mile.' She has been a major force in establishing the Charlotte Running Club. [She recently became the group's Social Committee Chair.] She has hosted countless pasta dinners for runners at her house."
And there's more where that came from. Here are just a few of the tangible ways in which Rebecca Thomason has made Charlotte a better place for runners in the past year:
- She started the Charlotte Kids Run Club, a running group for children of all ages that meets at her house twice a week. "The kids run laps around the block," she tells me. "Most of them are now up to running 2-3 miles each practice! Two of our kids ran their first 5Ks this season at 6 and 7 years old." Her 2-year-old daughter Summer is the group's youngest member.
- She coaches the Girls on the Run program at Eastover Elementary School; it's her fifth year as a GOTR coach. "It is so empowering for young girls to learn about themselves and develop high self-esteem through running," says Rebecca, whose two older children attend Eastover.
- She is a Cross Country for Youth coach at Sedgefield Middle School; the program exposes Charlotte Mecklenburg schoolchildren to cross-country running. "They are taught a character-building lesson at each practice, and then we help them set running goals and coach them on training and pacing," Rebecca says. "It has been so rewarding -- some of the kids have never been in an organized sport before. To watch them develop both in terms of their running ability and the way they communicate with their coaches has been extremely uplifting."
After suffering that stress fracture over the summer while prepping for the Chicago Marathon, she did what a surprising number of runners cannot: She stayed off the foot, number one, but she also stayed fresh, spending "countless hours on the stepper -- in a full boot! -- and in the pool doing deep water pool running." The work paid off with the Hit the Brixx win. She still made the trip to Chicago in October, but resisted the temptation to gut out the full 26.2 and wisely called it quits after hitting the halfway point, choosing instead to focus on longer-term goals.
Rebecca accepts setbacks and injuries for what they are, and takes a view we should all think about -- not just when we're hurt, but when we're healthy, too: "I have tried my best to not lose sight of the fact that I am blessed to be able to run, period. I tend to get down on myself if I am not running as well as I think I should be, but I also try to remember that there are people out there who can't run at all. So I try to keep it all in perspective."
That's it. She's my pick. There's my evidence. I think we're done here ... except for this one last great quote from 2009 Runner of the Year Rebecca Thomason:
"I think the best thing about being a runner is seeing other people start to realize their potential. I think every one of us has the ability to be a runner -- some fast, some not so much -- but just being out there is the best feeling in the world. I have people tell me that I inspired them to start running when they saw me fat and pregnant running -- if I could do it ... so could they. I never took that the wrong way. I think every single runner has the ability to inspire another. We are all in this together. It is a great and beautiful sport. The most individual in some ways, and the most powerful bonding sport in others."
D.C. Lucchesi, 42, Charlotte
You've probably never heard of the guy, but I'm telling you, he makes the Thunder Road Marathon GO. With a capital G. And a capital O. He says he has "more of an ombudsman role on race day," but he's done a little bit of everything, including: served as a media liaison and generated the electronic marketing for the event; organized the pace team leaders; played emcee at the race expo; picked up an injured runner along the course; refueled the gas-powered heaters; made food runs for the volunteers; and cleaned up trash afterward. He lives and breathes Thunder Road -- and he does it all for free. "It's mostly because I share [Run For Your Life owner Tim Rhodes'] vision that this can be something big and good for Charlotte," says DC, who also puts together the e-mail blast for Run For Your Life that many of you probably receive every week. He coaches 15 girls as part of Cotswold Elementary's Girls on the Run program, in addition to mentoring and/or coaching several adult runners -- also on a volunteer basis. What's his full-time job? "Stay-at-home dad. I've got three kids ages 8, 6 and 4."
Jonathan Savage, 43, Charlotte
You probably have heard of Jonathan, if you've been reading my blog long enough. He's arguably the city's top ultra-runner, having covered almost 4,000 miles this year -- including 100 at the Massanutten Mountain Trails Run and 132.24 at the Hinson Lake 24-Hour Ultra Classic (where he set a course record). But he also was a pacer this year at three marathons: Myrtle Beach, City of Oaks in Raleigh, and Thunder Road. Says Jonathan: "To help people achieve their goals and give them support when they are struggling is very rewarding." And he's a true student of the science behind the sport, so passionate that he's modified running shoes to try to enhance their performance. (Lately he's been experimenting with Nike Frees.) He shares all of his research on a running tips blog he launched this year (click here to read it), with the goal of helping others. "I look back on my running over the years, and there are so many things I know now that I wish I'd known then. Simple things, like a little extra salt in your drink, can make the difference between a good race and a miserable failure."