They Make us All Feel Special

David Yon, January 15, 2012

Over the course of a year, a lot of people put mammoth efforts into making Gulf Winds Track Club perhaps the best group I have ever been associated with.   Of course it is not perfect as things sometime go wrong and people get upset.  But I have been a part of a lot of volunteer organizations and many of them get consumed by who does what and why someone else is not doing more.  This organization has more people who simply say “if there is a job to do, point me in that direction and I will get it done.” It starts with the examples of people like Bill Lott and Peg Griffin, who ask for nothing in return and constantly give of their time and effort.  There are directors (often husband and wife teams) of 15 club races who give unselfishly of their time and ask for nothing in return.  There are hundreds of volunteers who contribute to these events.  And then, when you  think this effort would overwhelm an organization, these same people constantly reach out to help others in the community put on events that do exactly the same things.

So once a year, there is a night to recognize some of these champions.  Saturday, January 14, was this year’s award ceremony.  The Awards Committee, which consists of Jeanne O’Kon, Felton Wright, Chika Okoro, Amanda Hudson and Mark Priddy, spends a lot of time soliciting nominations, designing the program, gathering awards, debating the merits of the nominations and ultimately selecting the winners.  The result is a night that makes us all feel special.

Brian Corbin opened the evening by presenting the Community Award to FSU Coach Bob Braman.  This award goes to “an organization or individual who over a period of years, through financial or other contributions, has supported running in the community at large.”  There is little doubt about Braman’s contribution to the sport at FSU: three national titles for the men’s track and field team and a foundation for the women’s cross country team coached by Karen Harvey that has become a perennial top 5 finisher. But beyond that Brian pointed out the real reason he deserves this award:

“Not only has he brought prestige to our area, but his teams are frequently volunteering at local events. You have seen them at races. They have become a springtime fixture at the Boys and Girls Club where many of the athletes come out to put on a clinic. They have raised tens of thousands of dollars for the United Way with their Across the State Relay, done annually during the early part of the cross country season.”

The next award was the Volunteer of the Year Award presented by Tom Perkins and it went to Dana Stetson, someone who represents the spirit of GWTC better than anyone I know.  Counter culture?  That is Dana, who brings his own unique personality to the club.  But as Tom Perkins stated in his presentation:

Who asks for the toughest and nastiest job and revels in it?  Why would anybody in their right mind smile when told it’s going to rain and be a nasty day on race day?  “The tougher the better” is this person’s motto.

Lisa Unger followed Tom Perkins and presented the Race Director of the Year Award to Perry Shaw.   Perry directs not one but at least 8 races each year as part of the Summer Track Series.  Perry has more than 35 years working with this event.

There have been few club members who devote more of their time to helping develop other runners than Chuck and Jana Davis and that is exactly why club president, Judy Alexander, had the privilege of presenting the Cleveland-Caldwell Advancement of the Sport Award to them.  “The award is given in recognition of those who make significant contributions to the advancement of the sport, whether through research, education or some other area of expertise.” Chuck and Jana have more than earned this award with their efforts with the Trailblazers, directing races and leading interval sessions.

From time to time a deserving person doesn’t quite fit a category and the committee wisely designs a unique award to recognize their efforts.  This year that award was the Behind the Scenes Award and Mark Priddy made the presentation to Vicky Verano, Gulf Winds Track Club’s Equipment Manager.   Mark explained exactly what that meant:

If you look over last year’s race calendar, you’ll see over 160 races listed.  Gulf Winds Track Club rented out equipment to over 60 of those racing events.  Now, you can do the math in your head, over 60 weekend events, and since there are only 52 weeks in the year, and some weekends in the summertime don’t have racing events due to the heat, it doesn’t take long to realize that someone has to be at the storage unit every weekend to distribute this equipment, keep track of inventory that is leased out, who is taking it, security deposits, and be available after the weekend to receive back and inventory the equipment.  It’s a huge time commitment and one that doesn’t allow many weekends to take off and leave town.

And unless you are a race director, because it all happens “behind the scenes” you would have no idea just how much work it takes.

The Male and Female Runners of the Year are special awards.  They recognize people who have not only run well, but “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.”  We have never had a Runner of the Year with better life time achievements than 2011 winner Kevin Sullivan.  But as I explained in my presentation:

… Runner of the Year is about much more than running fast.  We all appreciate the chance to watch our 2011 Runner of the Year run fast.  But far more than that, we appreciate not having to lug boxes around [during pre-race registration at his store].  We appreciate the support given our running community with sponsorships, advice and gift certificates.   We appreciate an Olympian who doesn’t think he is too good to run in our races.  And most of all we appreciate him bringing us a running store we can call home. 

Ashley Daily explained just what a great athlete and mentor Kelly Stevens is as she explained why she deserved to be the Female Runner of the Year. She summed it up as follows:

She almost won the Grand Prix this year and held strong till the last race, but honestly, Kelly, you will always be so much more than a runner to so many people in this club. I am so proud to call you my friend and confidant..

The Male Triathlete of the Year was Michael Weyant and Bill Dillon presented his award.  Mike has not only been a top competitor for many years, as Bill says “he brought his love of triathlon to others.”   Seeley Gutierrez presented Jennifer Kilinski the Female Triathlete of the Year Award. Seeley used the following quote from Annette Wilson, Jennifer’s training partner, to sum up Jennifer’s contributions:

As a newbie to the sport, she is a great example and leader to me. I know that by meeting her I have become a better triathlete and also a better human being. I now do my best to pay it forward to my community through volunteering and encouraging others in my community through her example.

Of course the award that tops them all is the Hall of Fame induction.  This year’s inductee, Tim Unger, was presented by Bill McGuire.  Bill laid out the compelling case for Tim’s induction noting that not only has he relentlessly recruited and promoted GWTC team competition across north Florida, but that he has become the most prolific Grand Prix scorer in club history, accepting that mantle from Tim Simpkins, one of Tim Unger’s mentors and heroes.

There are nowhere near enough awards to recognize all the deserving efforts that make GWTC a truly special organization.  But once again, the Awards Committee has done a great job identifying a most deserving crew.