GWTC Annual Awards Recipients2023
Female Triathlete of the Year – Presented to Beverly Harrell by Kory Skrob
Our Female Triathlete of the Year epitomizes the love of competition, camaraderie, and service to both Gulf Winds Track Club and Gulf Winds Triathletes.
In the realm of athleticism, our Triathlete of the Year began competing in Gulf Winds Track Club races in 2017. Like so many, she found herself drawn to the dark side…
This year, she left us in awe. She completed challenging races including Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga, Ironman 70.3 Augusta as well as completing her first FULL Ironman, at Ironman Florida. That with local 5K’s as well as sprint distance triathlons.
She has been an encourager, training partner and inspiration to many throughout the year.
Moreover, she has shown unwavering service when the tri club faced adversity. Her selfless dedication in challenging times is truly inspiring.
Plus, she also devoted her time to the Gulf Winds Track club organizing and manning aide stations for the Tallahassee Marathon and Turkey Trot and now joining the board of directors.
But more importantly, our winner is a wife to Vins and mom to Anna, Natalie, and Cooper. And, she’s even inspired her son to complete triathlons himself.
Please join me in congratulating Beverly Harrell as the Gulf Winds Track Club Female Triathlete of the Year!
Male Triathlete of the Year – Presented to Rick Ashton by Keith Rowe and Jeff Bowman
Our 2023 recipient grew up in South Florida and played every sport he could. In high school he played football, baseball, volleyball, & badminton (badminton, who would’ve known). His football team won 3 state titles, and the 1964 high school National Championship. He met his wife of 52 years on the badminton team. In college he was captain of the Track team, ran the 110 & 440 hurdles, and threw the javelin. He also ran cross country and was a member of the wrestling team.
He moved to Tallahassee in 1969 where his love of running blossomed and joined our Gulf Winds Track Club.
He started his Triathlon career in 1984, doing 100’s of triathlons for over 40 years. His first event was the Outdoorsman Triathlon in Bryson City North Carolina. This race is self-described as the nation’s first triathlon, which consists of a 1-mile swim, a 4-mile run and an 8-mile whitewater canoe trek. To this day, our recipient still competes in this race. He then high tails it to North Georgia to ride the 6 Gap Century, the very next day!
From the era of steel bikes, no helmets, baggy shorts to skimpy speedos to Lycra skin suits, he has experienced it all.
Other high profile grueling events he has competed in include the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, his favorite. He authored an article about his experience titled Triathlon Heaven. His 2nd favorite triathlon is the Escape from Alcatraz, in San Francisco Bay. He has also competed multiple times in the Tour Divide Bikepacking Race, over 2700 miles traversing the length of the Rocky Mountains, from Canada to the Mexican Border, and over 200,000 feet of climbing. He is currently training for it again, his 5th Tour Divide, with a 28-day completion goal.
In 2023 he competed in over a dozen events. Of note, the Red Hills Triathlon, the Outdoorsman Triathlon, the Inaugural 6 Gap Gravel ride, The Dirty Pecan 150 miler, The Sasquatch Dirt 130 miler, on & on… One of his greatest gifts is giving back to the sport and club. For instance, every year after collecting his age group award at the Red Hills Triathlon, he can be found helping clean up, dismantling bike racks, whatever needs to be done. For him, this is the norm.
He also hosts several training rides each week, where everyone is welcome, young & old, newbies & veterans, triathletes and road riders… For the new inexperienced rookies, he keeps a watchful eye, always the attentive mentor.
By- the-way, if you don’t know Rick, he’s in the 75-79 age group. And if you ever line up against him in a triathlon, you may get your butt kicked!
Ladies & Gentleman, I present to you, our 2023 Male Triathlete of the Year, Rick Ashton!
Community Award – Presented to REI Co-op by Carter Hay
The Community Award goes to an organization or individual who has done great things to support running in the community at large.
For this year’s award, it’s a business that’s new to Tallahassee, but it’s notable that before they’d even opened in Tallahassee, two of the managers attended a Gulf Winds board meeting to connect with us and find out how to support the local running community. This clearly was indicative of the kind of relationship they wanted to build with the club and the support they wanted to offer to the running community.
In the time since then, they very much followed through. Some things to emphasize:
- Last February, they gave gifts to the marathon race committee to thank them for their service to the city.
- For the Springtime 2023 race, they hosted its packet pickup, and to encourage early packet pickup—which is really beneficial for such a big race—they gave away coupons and held a drawing for free memberships for those picking up their packets.
- Around that same time, for the Red Hills Triathlon, they recruited volunteers for an aid station and provided packet pickup bags and store coupons for the athletes.
- For the Pine Run 20K, they donated more than $800 in prizes. They also hosted the Pine Run packet pickup, donating a gift card to one lucky runner who picked her packet up early. They also came out on race day to run an aid station and volunteer at other places on the course.
- In late 2023, they also hosted a workshop on Running Basics for interested runners. That was a joint effort between their business and Gulf Winds Track Club.
- And in contributions to the broader community, through their Cooperative Action Fund, they awarded a grant to SportsAbility, a local organization that provides disabled athletes with equipment like sports and all-terrain wheelchairs, so that they can get outdoors and be active in the way that all of us clearly value.
So certainly at every point in the year, this business has found ways to contribute to our events and make a lasting impact.
We are fortunate to have it as a partner in our running community, and we can look forward to a great relationship ahead. With that in mind, I’m happy to recognize for this year’s Community Award: REI Co-op.
Cleveland Caldwell Advancement of the Sport – Presented to Nancy Stedman by Jack McDermott
This award (the Cleveland-Caldwell Award) is given to recognize a Gulf Winds member who has contributed to the advancement of the sport. It is not awarded for one year, or one event – but for a lifetime of commitment. This person embodies that commitment on many different levels as a runner, advocate, race director, running group organizer, running coach and everything in-between.
She is a testament to the transformational power of running. In her younger years she had some problems with addiction … originally typical drugs/alcohol, and later – smoking. She took control of her life, made changes, and started running in 2004, and has not looked back.
From 2008 to 2010 she frequently won races outright or was the female master’s winner; she excelled at all distances from 5K to the marathon. For these exploits she was awarded the female runner of the year in 2010. And then she got faster. She was selected as one of the Disney World Marathon’s “Florida’s Finest” and was the first female grandmaster in 2013. Another impressive accomplishment to note – she set her marathon PR of 3:28:08 at the 2013 Boston Marathon at the age of 51. Pretty incredible.
She and her husband began a running group in 2008 and christened it the “Imitation Adults” that invites runners of all abilities to join. My guess is nearly 500 different runners have run with this group over the last 15 years. As I said – anyone can join, but I hold the distinction of being the only person ever temporarily kicked-out of the group. In the early years I kept referring to the group as the “Immature Adults” not the “Imitation Adults” – apparently that is not very funny. However, the name “imitation adults” encapsulates her theory of running and the running community. It keeps us young – it keeps us youthful; it makes us feel like kids again.
From 2008 to 2015 she and her husband co-directed the Tallahassee marathon and transformed it from a fun, local, parochial race to a national venue. She modernized the race from the business side through sponsorships, marketing, advertising, and gained notice on Marathonguide.com. Due to her aggressive marketing of the Tallahassee Marathon – this race had the most marathon finishers in race history with 358 finishers in 2014 – a number that has not been broken. They even had to put a cap on the half-marathon of 750 people the race was so successful.
She and her husband then took over the ultra at Wakulla Springs and introduced the marathon to help save the event. To me – her greatest contribution to the race was in 2021. IN 2019, the race was rocked by controversy as race volunteers misdirected runners during the first 10 minutes of the race and were ineligible to qualify for the Boston Marathon. For those trying to qualify – their day was ruined. Then we had COVID, and then the newest director backed out at the last second – our award winner swooped in at the last second and pulled off a miracle by directing this race.
The real challenge – how someone really advances this sport – is to come up with something new. And that is exactly what our award winner did. She had an idea, a vision, a dream, a cause, a unique marketing strategy to develop a new event. Of course, I am talking about the Fur Fest 5K with proceeds that benefit Tallahassee Big Dog Rescue which has been held since 2019 and is now a fixture on the running calendar coming the week before Thanksgiving.
If you are a dog owner, or dog lover – this is the marquee event on the Tallahassee running calendar. Now most running races, admittedly, are not fun spectator events, but this is an exception. With dogs running on the course you never know what to expect. Given the venue – offroad near J. Lewis Hall Park – this event often features a stray rabbit or squirrel wandering onto the course which sometimes makes this race very exciting. If you are a dog lover, I strongly recommend this event as there are more runners and dogs every year.
I apologize for leaving so much out – she has been involved in all aspects of the club including serving on the board, RRCA certified running coach, being involved in the lecture series, helping new race directors, and volunteering at numerous events. And she is still setting new goals. In fact, she just finished running a marathon in her 37th state, New Mexico, just two weeks ago.
So, it is my honor to welcome this year’s Cleveland-Caldwell Advancement of the Sport Award Winner, my friend, Nancy Stedman.
Bill Lott Volunteer of the Year – Presented to Berinice Mercer-Lewis by Gabrielle Gabrielli
Berinice Mercer-Lewis uses running to bring joy, freedom, and fun to her life. Beyond that, running provides a deep connection to her first-born child, her son Kearon who died from Acute Myeloid Leukemia at age 31 after a yearlong cancer battle. Kearon left behind a wife and a 14 month old daughter in 2010. He had been following in his mother’s footsteps in the medical profession and had recently bought his first house in Quincy. Berinice also has a daughter Imani who ran track and was a sprinter, but they don’t run together.
Berinice has been running for over 23 years. Her son Kearon would sometimes run with her, but they joked about how she could outrun him. While Kearon was getting treatment at Moffitt Cancer Center, Berinice would run to help manage all the emotions of watching her son fight his battle. Now it is one of many ways she keeps him close to her heart. She also drives his modified and lowered 1998 Honda Accord. Berinice loves to cook, and one of Kearon’s favorites was her orzo and roasted shrimp.
Berinice runs for recreation, stress relief, weight control, camaraderie, challenge, and health. She loves the way it makes her feel. She enjoys nature and the freedom of running. There are many parallels of her nursing profession and running including grit, resilience, and determination.
Originally from Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, Berinice’s accent is an attribute of her character of kindness, compassion, and friendliness. By trade, Berinice has been a nurse for 40 years, 31 of which she has worked at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Florida State University and her master’s degree in healthcare administration from Saint Francis University. She is a nurse manager on the TMH diabetes medical care unit, and she loves working with other nurses. Berinice has been recognized in her profession many times for her outstanding leadership. She is currently featured in a kindness campaign with Leon County Sheriff’s Office.
Congratulations to Berinice for earning the 2023 Bill Lott Volunteer of the Year award! She was nominated by Gabrielle K. Gabrielli who met her at a Black Girls RUN! event where Berinice is an ambassador. Berinice is a servant leader who is very active in the running community. She has run dozens of marathons and encouraged countless others to do the same. In fact, Berinice has run 34 marathons and over 50 half marathons in 17 states, and her next half marathon will be at Gulf Winds Track Club’s Tallahassee Marathon. Berinice helps organize groups of BGR ladies to volunteer at water stations for Springtime Tallahassee and the Tallahassee Marathon. The spirited water stations attract a lot of attention and won the best water station award at the 2023 marathon. The participation by BGR ladies running in GWTC events is tremendous!
Berinice enjoys the fellowship and encouragement at GWTC. She learned about the club a long time ago. At the time they were out running and were offered water by Nancy Stedman and friends even though they weren’t yet club members. Berinice’s advice to others includes to be kind to yourself. She reminds people new to the sport that running is just fast walking. Start with walking and just have fun. You don’t have to go fast but do get a good pair of shoes!
To summarize, Berinice loves running, and she does a lot to get others interested in the sport. She says that losing her son Kearon was incredibly difficult, but running gives her a closer connection to him.
Race Director of the Year – Presented to Bill and Mary Bowers by Lisa Unger and Jeanne O’Kon
JEANNE: It is our pleasure to present the Race Director of the Year award for 2023.
In keeping with Gulf Winds tradition, we will make several vague statements, so it won’t be obvious who the recipient is!
LISA: This race director is very dedicated and has directed an important race in Tallahassee for several years. This race director recruits great volunteers and guides them to fulfill their responsibilities well. This race director raises charitable donations for an important nonprofit in the community. This race director is a member of Gulf Winds, but the race is a non-Club race.
JEANNE: A goal of this race is to combine athletic competition with social outreach.
A “No Timing” option is provided for those who do not want to compete for race times. This race director is actually TWO people: a husband and wife team who put together a quality event year after year!
Now, more specifics: This race on Labor Day is a fundraiser for NAMI: the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
LISA: This race is designed to promote suicide awareness and to provide information about mental health resources in the community. Race participants are encouraged to write comments on a “Memory Lane” exhibit in remembrance of those who have died by suicide. These race directors get the job of race directing done from preparing a perfectly detailed web site to ensuring the safety of all runners and walkers, all while emphasizing that everyone has a fun time at the event.
BOTH: Please join us in honoring the race director of the year, for The Bluebird Run and Walk for Brookie B, —-Bill Bowers and Mary Bowers
Female Runner of the Year – Presented to Laura McDermott by Paula O’Neill
It is such a thrill for me to introduce this year’s Female Runner of the Year. I’ve known this runner for more than 15 years. I was a novice runner back then, wanting to test myself in the marathon distance, so I joined in on a different Sunday long run group when my regular group couldn’t meet, and fate had it that I met her. I couldn’t have met a sweeter, more talented person to share this journey with. We had so much in common and an instant bond formed. We spent many miles together in those 15 years, most affectionately on our “Sunday Rundays” and coffee talks afterwards, chatting about our jobs, world events, and our running aspirations. She helped me become a better runner, pushing me to my 2016 BQ, encouraging me with every step. But she not only helped me, she continually helps so many others become better because she’s such a giving, caring, generous person. It just comes naturally to her, as evidenced by her coaching and mentoring youth runners through GOTR, the Wolf Pack Summer Running Group, SMIRFS, and Middle School Xcountry. She also gave of her time and talents through race direction for both GW and LCS, all the while designing and selling GW merchandise. Sounds like I’m introducing the Volunteer of the Year doesn’t it, but that’s in addition to her training and running fast. She’s amazing!
Well, now I want to focus on her and her achievements, which is what this award is all about. She finished this year’s Grand Prix tournament in first place, running 13 of the 15 races and earning the most points… Hello Jacket. She was overall female winner of the Sizzler 5K and was master winner at the Blue Bird, Catfish, and Tate’s Hell 5K’s, and she was third overall female at that grueling Pine Run. She also ran the Tallahassee Half Marathon and the Boston Mini. This was all while building back from a debilitating knee injury! She even ran the 2023 Big Sur marathon to test how her injury recovery was progressing which helped add to her grand total of 65 lifetime marathons, many of them run around the globe, because she runs marathons wherever she travels, an achievement in itself with having to sight see on marathon legs afterwards. As an aside, I’d like to add that her Boston count is 4, but she’s qualified for 11. And, she ran an amazing 3:29:25 at the 2017 Jack & Jill Marathon, and an equally impressive 1:36:45 at the 2018 Modesto Half.
As you know, this award goes to the person who is a model for us all in her competitive spirit, devotion to the sport, and support and encouragement of fellow runners. I cannot think of a more deserving recipient this year.
I am so happy and excited to present to you this year’s Gulf Winds Track Club Female Runner of the Year 2023 to my dear friend and fellow Tallafastie, Laura McDermott.
Male Runner of the Year – Presented to Leonardo Canete by Tim Unger
GWTC Runners Of the Year usually affect race dynamics with simple domination – by winning races.
No doubt, the 2023 ROY has run – and won – race after race after race since he first arrived in Tallahassee in 2021.
I had heard about him but didn’t meet him until that fall. At the Sickle Cell race I invited him to run with my WYSIWYG team at Turkey Trot that year. Having no idea what to expect of this high caliber runner, I was surprised that he was calmer and more peaceful than even the golfers playing at Jake Gather golf course that morning.
After attending a few local events together, I asked him if he would consider traveling to Jacksonville for the First Place Sports Summer Beach Run, which is known to be the oldest footrace in Florida. It is an all-sand 5-mile event that is run on Jacksonville Beach. GWTC great Ken Misner won the SBR a few times in 1970’s, and Tim Simpkins won it in 1976. Of course, our 2023 ROY crushed it!
The moments after he became the third GWTC winner of the SBR were both electric & hectic as the local crowd could not believe that an out-of-towner had just won! We like to think this is the catalyst for 1st Place Sports adding a 29-minute qualifying time for prize money that practically eliminates anyone from out of town winning their prize money!
He was ready to pack up and head back to Tallahassee right after claiming the winner’s cash prize. But the beach party was in full swing, and he hadn’t yet received the other award he had earned, that the rest of us had driven to the Atlantic Ocean to try to win — the famed Summer Beach Run victory beach towel! So, he waited patiently with me until we proudly claimed our beach towels.
This past summer he became the first GWTC winner of the NWFTC’s crown jewel event; The Billy Bowlegs Midnight Run since Tim Simpkins, and he was Master’s champion of the Bushwhacker 5k a few weeks later.
I can’t list every event our ROY has a claim on, but here’s a few:
- He’s won nearly 50 percent of the 75 local events he has entered in just 3 years.
- He is the 2023 USATF Florida Masters Champion who led a GWTC team to a USATF national team finish.
- He has won the Summer Trail Series title an amazing 3 times. He won the final summer trail series race on the same day that he could have gone back to Jacksonville to defend his Summer Beach Run title!
But this runner displays so much more than just running and racing accomplishments. Many people have described him as humble and encouraging to other runners, and one of the most friendly and sociable runners you may ever meet. He is regularly seen wearing the GWTC logo proudly, representing our club very honorably wherever he competes.
And the Summer Beach Run victory towel? During the Prefontaine 5k clean-up, he saw newly minted race director, Allen Blay, was sweating and needed a towel. So now Allen has the SBR victory towel! This is the kind of supportive behavior that we see him conduct.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention that he has a co-pilot in his life, who is defined as a role model with great patience.
He wins events of any distance. He comes from a family with a rich running history.
His infectious smile & personality has absolutely won our all our hearts.
It is with great pride that I present to you the 2023 ROY, GWTC’s 2-time Grand Prix Champion,
The Argentinian Sensation: Leonardo Canete.
Hall of Fame Inductee – Presented to Jerry McDaniel by Mary Jean Yon
Individuals who have brought respect to the GWTC through their contributions, activities, and running accomplishments, and who have played a major role in shaping the ideals of the club are recognized when inducted into our Hall of Fame.
It will not take long to figure out tonight’s winner of the GWTC Hall of Fame award. In addition to being a valuable member of the club for many years, this person has also spent a considerable amount of time directing club races and simply volunteering in general. Before we talk about that, let’s talk about the running prowess of this nominee.
We learned recently that this nominee has been a member of GWTC for approximately 26 years and a runner for 48 years. That prompted a search of Grand Prix results for that same time span since the Grand Prix competition is a good indicator of which members have that competitive fire in their belly. Since 1998, this runner has consistently scored in the top three positions in their age group. Taking a closer look at race times over the years, our nominee has run every distance from the mile to the Boston Marathon. The GWTC database includes many sub-20 minute 5K’s, sub-40 minute 10K’s and an impressive streak of sub 5:35-minute miles at Breakfast on the Track.
At the risk of a gender reveal, this nominee’s pronouns are he/him/his. He has been a fierce competitor over the years, unless he decides he wants to take it easy. He’s been known to race for hot dogs, or beer, or just to mow down somebody for the pure fun of it.
He’s also been known to direct a race or two along the way. Back in 2004, our nominee somehow talked his wife into helping him with the GWTC 30K. The first order of business was to move the race to Old Centerville Road, which many of you were able to run recently. If you ran the 15K, you have our nominee and his wife to thank for that option which they added in 2006. Together they directed that race for 12 years before handing it over to the well qualified team of Jillian Heddaeus and Zach DeVeau.
A six-year break was just enough time for our nominee to let his guard down and next thing you know, he was playing a key role in helping to direct the Springtime races as part of a committee in 2022. He did such a good job of that…next thing he knew, he and that very same lovely wife became the sole directors of Springtime in 2023. Wouldn’t you have loved being a fly on the wall when he brought that idea home for discussion. Must have been a good pitch as the happy couple is back again this year for 2024 to continue their good work.
Our nominee has also served on the GWTC Board as a Director-at-Large. Following that, he took a short break and next thing you know, he was elected President of GWTC. He comes to that position with a vision, goals, and a plan. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he has many years of valuable experience serving as the Budget Director for the State of Florida for at least two governors.
And last but not least, our nominee has the ability to interact with people of all types but especially with kids. He hones his skills with the SMIRFs and Striders youth running program where he volunteers on weekday mornings throughout the summer months and Monday evenings the rest of the year. It is always inspiring to watch as he treats everyone fairly and equitably as he “herds the cats” which is certainly a skill that comes in handy for handling his fellow GWTC Board members.
Please join us in congratulating Jerry McDaniel as the 2023 inductee into the GWTC Hall of Fame and a big thanks to Jackie McDaniel for helping him to shine!