Tuesday, December 21, 2010

And Charlotte's Runner of the Year is ...

There are several very good runners in and around Charlotte who have done lots of great things to make the running community in this city better, faster, stronger.

So when you sit down to figure out who’s most deserving of recognition, the first thing your head does … is explode. It’s just very hard – even after weighing all the evidence and giving dozens of different people long, careful thought – to narrow down the list, to pick a certain individual over another.

Last year, I picked one person as my Runner of the Year and then named two honorable mentions. This year, in a celebration of wishy-washiness, I’ve selected five honorable mentions (encompassing eight people; read on to see how I pulled off that trick), and decided to go with two people in the top spot.

It’s not a huge stretch, though, to lump Larry and Kathy Seavers together. As one nominator put it, “they really are a package deal.”

Even those who don’t personally know the husband-and-wife team have probably noticed them out at local races because – well, frankly, it’s because Larry and Kathy are obviously older, and you just don’t see that many older runners out there (Larry is 66; Kathy turned 65 last Saturday). At least, not older runners who are as fast, as consistent, as prolific, as friendly, as social, as supportive, and as upbeat as they are.

Photo by Bill Weimer

Larry – instantly recognizable in his dark sunglasses and a Boston Red Sox ballcap that covers a shock of white hair – ran 33 races in 2010, winning his age group 13 times and posting times that are quick for any age. (He ran a 23:56 at the Cupid’s Cup 5k last February, for example, and – most recently – a 1:58:48 at the Kiawah Island Half Marathon). Kathy, meanwhile, completed 18 races and got age-group wins in 14 of them, including at the Santa Scramble 5k in Concord last month (24:30).

In almost any other year, Kathy and Larry would have run a roughly equal number of races. But Kathy began the year recovering from a femoral fracture she suffered in October 2009. She slowly eased back into running, but while doing hill work last winter, she sustained another injury: An MRI revealed that she had four bones broken internally in her hip area, a result of osteopenia and osteoporosis.

While others her age might have decided to retire from the sport, Kathy just waited patiently for the healing process to take place. In early May, she decided that she wanted to try to compete in the Run For Your Life Grand Prix Series. Three of the 10 series races had already been run, and she would have to miss one of the remaining seven. She needed to run six to qualify for awards … and she did just that. She walked the Great Harvest Bread Co. 5k in 54:04 and did the remaining five GPx races, improving with each one. Despite playing catch-up all season, she finished third in the rankings for her age group.

One nominator wrote: “Most people with broken bones would be sitting on the couch watching TV. Not Kathy Seavers. As soon as she could walk again, she was back on the 5k scene this past spring. She couldn't even run yet, but was crossing the finish line and clearly having fun. And those few races she actually had to miss? I wonder how sick Larry got of answering, ‘Where’s Kathy?’”

Both Larry and Kathy are active members of the Charlotte Running Club and the Charlotte Track & Triathlon Club. They volunteer at road races and triathlons, which is something all of us should do but most of us don’t. They helped Lois’ Lodge – which provides support for women experiencing unplanned pregnancies – become a beneficiary of Run For Your Life’s Run For Your Cause race last summer. And they are amazing cheerleaders.

“When you’re at one of Larry and Kathy’s races, you can count on seeing them making the rounds before the race, and then doing it again long after everyone’s finished,” a nominator wrote. “They don’t hop in their car and go. They wait to congratulate everyone, and ask they how they are doing. You can tell that people are always excited to see them. But this sort of support isn’t limited to the starting line and the post-race party. Spend some time trolling the running community on Facebook. Whether it’s a ‘congratulations/good luck on your out-of-town marathon’ or a ‘hope that knee gets better,’ Larry and Kathy are keeping up and genuinely caring about the goals, accomplishments and roadblocks of their running friends.”

(To put this all into a little bit of context, my 67-year-old father stopped running 25 years ago and doesn’t “get” Facebook.)

Says another Larry and Kathy fan: “They are the most supportive couple ever. If they are out of town for two weeks, they still find the time to look up results from the past two weekends and to congratulate their fellow running friends on their accomplishments. Also, they are pretty much what every runner should aspire to be; they love running just as much as they did when they ran their first steps who knows how many years ago.”

(Kathy began running in 1983 after she quit smoking; Larry took up the sport around 1985. They also, by the way, love cheering for each other. Says Kathy of her husband of nearly 42 years: “Larry is my best supporter. Always looking out for me, always encouraging me. He gets behind me in all the races at the start to make sure I don’t trip or that no one bumps into me.”)

I’m not saying there aren’t others out there who are ultra-supportive, or fast for their age, or adept at using Facebook. What I am saying is this: If you get to your mid-60s and you’re still as vocal and as passionate and as positive about the sport as Larry and Kathy Seavers are, if you’re still running dozens of races a year and finishing with a smile on your face every time, if you make an effort to befriend the plodders as well as the elites … please, drop me a note and I’ll make sure you get an award, too.

Simply put, their love of the sport is pure and without agenda.

Says Larry: “Kathy loves running because it is great exercise and fun. She loves racing because she gets to see great friends and meets new ones every week. … For me, a race each week is like some who enjoy meeting their foursome to play golf each Saturday. It’s an opportunity to meet friends who you enjoy, and to compete against them and others. In racing, you see a different course each week. Each event benefits a great cause. There is wonderful food, prizes and great friendship. What could be better?”

Honorable Mentions

Ashley Armistead and Lori Klingman
In less than three years, the duo behind Let Me Run – sometimes referred to as “Girls on the Run for boys” – have turned a dream of empowering boys through running into a reality. The program started as one fledgling after-school club in the spring of 2008; today, Armistead (founder and president) and Klingman (vice president) are projecting that 400 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade boys will participate next spring. Wrote one nominator: “Ashley and Lori have devoted countless hours to teaching boys about having confidence in themselves, experiencing the joy of setting goals and accomplishing them, and embracing healthy lifestyles.” Clearly, it’s an idea whose time has come: The nonprofit organization is fielding calls or e-mails almost daily from people inquiring about how to get a program in their school. In the coming year, Klingman says they’ll be developing an expansion plan that will help Let Me Run go nationwide. Both women are strong runners, too: Klingman, 37, ran a 3:59:40 at the Marine Corps Marathon in October (“It was most definitely not my best marathon, but I enjoyed the journey more than I ever had in the past”), while Armistead, 41, nailed a Boston-qualifying time of 3:50:09 this month. She did it at Thunder Road in Charlotte, where a band of boisterous Let Me Run boys manned an unforgettable water stop at Mile 14.

Armistead and Klingman
Bevin Jett
With lots of tender loving care, Jett has in just three short years helped the Charlotte Runners Meetup Group grow from a handful of people into the biggest running group in Charlotte – so big that today she enlists the help of 10 assistant organizers. Together they organize a wide variety of regular group runs, and Jett personally hosts the city’s largest weekly group run, a Thursday-night event that routinely draws several dozen runners (the growth of the event prompted a recent move from tiny Common Market in Plaza Midwood to The Philosopher’s Stone in Elizabeth). Wrote one nominator: “She injects more fun into a simple weekly four-mile run than I ever thought possible.” Another noted that “along with the regular weekly runs, Bevin will sprinkle in themed runs during the year for a change of pace – for example, we had over 100 runners in costume for the Halloween run, with prizes going to different categories … and none of them were for fast people.” The 48-year-old mother of two teenagers led contingents of Meetup members at events like Miles of Mooresville, the 24 Hours of Booty cycling event, and the Marine Corps Marathon; she also qualified for Boston 2012 with a 3:52:13 at Thunder Road. Yet none of this has gone to her head. Says Jett: “Even today I still find other runners a bit intimidating. They always look so much cooler, faster, and skinnier than me. … I can only wonder what it must be like for someone just starting out and trying to run, especially someone who maybe has always been told all his or her life for one reason or another that they can’t run. I don’t want to be the runner who scares people off when I tell them I have run a marathon; I want to have them believing they can run a marathon, too.”

Photo by Kai Linn
Chad Randolph
With his Davidson Area Running Team, the 45-year-old has inspired and unified both serious and casual runners in Davidson (and the surrounding areas) in a way in which no other suburban city has been able to. A strong Facebook presence and cool-looking team T-shirts have helped, but the group’s success primarily is the result of Randolph’s ambassadorship. Says one nominator: “He organizes people to go to races, and then drives them there and back. He blogs running. He takes runners – no matter how fast or slow – and encourages them and sticks with them on DART runs to just talk running.” You might also see him filling in from time to time at Run For Your Life, or at small marathons and ultras around the region (this year he ran the Iron Horse 100k in Florahome, Fla., the Gator Trail 50k in Wilmington, the Bethel Hill Moonlight Boogie 50-Miler, and the Ridge to Bridge Marathon, among others). A stress fracture has him laid up at the moment, but he still showed up at the Elf 5K in Mt. Mourne Saturday on crutches, and cheered in runners in the freezing cold until the last one finished. Oh, and did we mention he's completed numerous loong races – including a marathon and that 50k – in a pair of Vibram FiveFingers?

Tim Rhodes
Simply put, “Tim is the reason we have a racing series and a local marathon,” says one nominator. The 49-year-old owner of Run For Your Life also ran some excellent races, including a 3:07:51 at the Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa last month and a 4:50:16 at the Augusta 70.3 Half Ironman earlier in the fall. (He’ll do his first full Ironman, in Wisconsin, next year.) But it’s the behind-the-scenes work that landed him on this list. Under his direction, Run For Your Life made charitable contributions of more than $100,000 once again, providing aid to everything from a homeless men’s ministry to a local community school for impoverished girls. He and his wife Robin are closely involved with Samaritan’s Feet, donating approximately 100 pairs of shoes per week to needy children in Western Africa. And this fall, Rhodes was given the Ubuntu Award for “outstanding leadership, commitment, and service to their local community” by Balega, a sock company with a rich South African Heritage. (Ubuntu is an African concept, “a humanistic philosophy focusing on people’s allegiance and relationship to others,” according to Balega.) When asked for 2010 personal highlights, Rhodes mentions his son Grant, who made all-conference as a cross-country star at Mallard Creek High School this year; and his two new adopted children, Rebecca (now 8) and Eli (3), both from Ethiopia. His message for the running community in Charlotte? “Thank you for the privilege of allowing me to do something I absolutely love.”

Aaron Linz, Caitlin Chrisman and Jay Holder
They’re the three people most responsible for the success of the Charlotte Running Club, which now claims more than 400 members – and at 37, 25 and 27, they’re also the youngest people on this list. A case could certainly be made for each of them as individuals. In October, Chrisman qualified for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon with a 2:41:52 at the Twin Cities Marathon – her first-ever 26.2 – cementing her status as the area’s top female runner after also posting wins at shorter distances throughout the year. Linz “does a lot of work behind the scenes to continue the growth of the club, while juggling work, family and training,” as one nominator points out; he’s also well-known for riding his bike up and down the street during major local races while screaming himself hoarse in support of, well, everyone. Holder spends hours putting together what has to be the most informative and best-looking running club newsletter in the Carolinas, if not the entire Southeast. (Linz and Holder both set PRs at the marathon distance in Boston, then did it again at the Richmond Marathon in November, with marks of 2:41:32 and 2:40:28, respectively). But the three of them together have made the club tick, putting good people in the right positions on the board of directors; using their own money to front the costs for things like the official club tees worn by many members at local races; staging successful fundraisers (a “Run for Haiti” early in the year raised more than $1,500 for the Red Cross) and wild social events; and – when their competitive fires are ignited – fielding incredibly fast and talented teams at races like the Blue Ridge Relay (mixed division winners) and the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler (mixed competition winners here, too). The long-term goal? Says Linz: “We want the club to take on a life of its own so that 10 years from now, when Jay is a big-time TV producer in New York, and Caitlin is living on a vegan farm in California, and I'm attempting to break all Larry Seavers' age-group times, we will be proud of what we helped start.” They appear to be on the right track.

Holder, Chrisman and Linz


Marcus Barton said...

Congrats to everyone. All very,very well-deserved!

Marcus Barton

lauren said...

seeing larry and kathy win this distinction makes my day!!! i want to be them when i grow up!!

Andrew said...

awesome... congrats to Bevin and the meetup group on the mention and to all of those honored!

Eimear said...

Awwwwww - that's lovely! What a great collection of people showcasing our running community - congratulations to everyone.

Rundog said...

And how about a vote for Theoden for keeping us all informed on everything running!

Larry said...

Kathy and I thank everyone for this honor. We are familiar with the work of Aaron, Caitlin and Jay in the CRC and on the road. We have known Tim for about 10 years and Chad for a few, and we are familiar with the contributions of all of them. But we did not know about that Lori, Ashley, and Bevin did so much and had such great accomplishments on the road. We think they should all demand a recount. :-). We plan to try to meet them this coming year. Why don't we consider us all co-winners? Thanks for all your efforts!!!

Anonymous said...

Theoden - you are such a blessing to this community - as are ALL the nominees! I must say - everyone mentioned are simply amazing. Great people inside and OUT!!! I feel blessed to be a close friend to many of these great runners. Kathy and Larry are family to us - they have been there for so many people. Good times, bad times... they are the most genuinely caring people you will ever know. And such amazing runners - they epitomize what a runner should be. Rock on my loves. WONDERFUL job Theoden spotlighting such fantastic pilars of our awesome running community! I LOVE YOU KATHY AND LARRY!!! love, Rebecca

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Chad. I liked the part about you showing up on crutches!!! Get well soon.