2002 GWTC Runner of the Year

Presented by (a tearful) Jane Johnson to Judy Alexander

In naming its Runners of the Year, GWTC seeks to honor those who, besides achieving outstanding times in the past year at various distances in local, regional, and national events, have served as models for all of us in their competitive spirit, their continuing devotion to the sport, and their support and encouragement of their fellow runners, both individually and as members of Gulf Winds.

When I think about the many reasons why this year’s female runner of the year deserves this award, I am reminded of one of my favorite expressions:

“Give a man a fish; feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; feed him for a lifetime.”

While this year’s female runner of the year is being honored for her outstanding running achievements at all distances, it is also because of the lasting contributions she has made to the running community in general that we are so pleased to honor her tonight.

If you were to ask her about her running performance this year, she would probably tell you that it was mediocre at best. Still, she was able to earn enough Grand Prix points to receive an award in her age group.

And while she may have had better running years before (is there anyone in this room who can’t say that?), the reason this year was not her best is probably because she focused so much of her time and energy on other runners. This year’s female runner of the year was busy teaching other runners “how to fish.”

This year’s winner is a woman who got up to run with a group of women from her church sometimes as early as 5:00 a.m. – not the most convenient time for her, but it worked for them. The pace they ran at was slower than her normal training pace, but she saw it as an opportunity to share the gift of running – to teach others to fish – and she seized it.

This year’s winner is a woman who took a motley group of school kids who had a mild interest in giving the sport of cross country a try, and produced one of the most spirited, cohesive cross country teams in this area. If you compared the average improvement in 5k race times from team to team in the Big Bend, I would bet $100 that her kids were way ahead of any other team.

She also initiated a brand new invitational cross country meet – at a brand new racing venue – and brought pride and recognition to her team and their school. At that meet, I was approached by the mother of one of the young boy on her team. This mom told me that her son had natural running talent, but she was concerned that she would have to transfer him to another school to get the kind of coaching that would help him reach his potential because his school did not have a cross country coach. She told me though that “just as she was ready to give up hope, God answered her prayers and this year’s runner of the year showed up out of the blue to give her son the coaching and encouragement he needed.”

And she didn’t just coach her kids. She taught them how to fish. Of course, she gave them workouts, and she taught them about technique. But she also transformed the lives of these kids – in very profound and lasting ways. For many of these kids, she gave them the gift of believing in themselves and believing that they were capable of things they never imagined they could do. As a mom, I have to say that after unconditional love, there aren’t many more valuable gifts you can give a child.

Her greatest accomplishment with this group of kids wasn’t making the lean kids faster. That was awesome, but other people could have done that. What she did that no one else could do was take a young boy who was very overweight, continue to encourage him even when he would lag well behind the rest of the kids. As a result he lost over 30 pounds and cut approximately 9 minutes off his 5k time in the course of three months. From what his parents say, he now has a different outlook on many things. Truly amazing.

The contagion of her positive energy was so powerful, that several of the formerly sedentary parents even started running themselves and improving the quality of their own lives. This year’s winner taught lots of people how to use a rod and reel to get the most out of their lives.

When our winner wasn’t busy teaching and coaching, she also worked two other jobs and was a devoted mother and wife. She also served on the Gulf Winds board and gave hundreds of hours of her personal time to that effort. On Thanksgiving Day, she arranged to have a U-Haul truck at the Turkey Trot so people could bring donations of food and clothing for the Refuge House and The Shelter, and she assisted in the huge success of last year’s Relay for Life.

There are countless other acts of love, encouragement and kindness that our winner bestowed everywhere she went – and our club and our community is that much better for it. I am honored and proud to present this year’s Female Runner of the Year Award to Judy Alexander.