By David Yon
Those who rush forward with such haste that they leave no time to recognize past good deeds and friends do so at peril of losing touch with their own soul.
The pace of today’s world keeps us all so focused on the next project that it is often difficult to stop and reflect on what has been accomplished. Fortunately, GWTC has at least one day each year it dedicates to applying the breaks on the speed of life and gathering around mentor and historian Bill McGuire to recognize a few of the people who have achieved something special in our running community. Saturday, January 14, was the night for 2005 and it truly was special as one brother presented an award (Tri-Athlete of the Year) to his sister and another brother accepted an award (Hall of Fame) as his brother raced back from Jacksonville, hoping to make the ceremony. Below are award winners and some of the evening’s highlights
HALL OF FAME – Jessie Close
Presented by Mae Cleveland and Herb Wills
There are few higher tributes than to have Mae Cleveland nominate you for an award. But that was only part of the magic in Jessie Close’s induction into the GWTC Hall of Fame on Saturday. There was also his bother’s, Billy Close, acceptance speech. Mae and Herb Wills gave us the amazing story. “Been there done that” at every distance from 800 to 50 miles. Jessie’s 50-miler was run while in the army in Korea. He was part of the FSU cross country team that had the highest NCAA finish in school history. Some of his most notable achievements included:
- He has won at least one time every Gulf Winds Track Club race he has entered. That includes the marathon and all distances down to the 5K.
- Between 1987 and 1992 he won the GWTC Grand Prix four times and finished 2nd once.
- Not surprisingly he has been our Runner of the Year, in 1989.
- He has won the Springtime 10K a total of five times, the Rose City 10K eight times, and he has crossed the finish line first at the Turkey Trot 15K six times. These wins do not all date back to his glory days of youth. In 2005 he had wins at Rose City and the Turkey Trot and no one would be surprised to learn he set 45-49 age group records while he was at it.
But probably more important is the charisma this athlete projects, despite his incredible humility about all things. As MC Bill McGuire and Turkey Trot Race director Mary Jean Yon, have both (more or less) said: “When Jessie Close shows up for your race, it just elevates the entire event.” I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked by members of the community “who is that runner that I see…” and I can tell from the awe in their voice before they finish their questions that they are talking about the sculpted frame that glides around the streets of Tallahassee like some kind of Greek god. And then there was the standing ovation he received when he walked into the American Legion Hall late, but determined to get there despite having to drive all the way from Jacksonville where his son was competing in gymnastics competition. And finally, while he stood behind the podium, temporarily rendered speechless by the spotlight, the entire crowd fell silent for the first time I can ever remember. Not a single person spoke as all eyes in the crowd turned to Jessie expressing their complete approval. Jessie’s late arrival almost appeared to be scripted though as it opened the door for his younger brother Billy to accept the award on Jessie’s behalf. His acceptance speech was truly one of the best I have ever heard and one more piece of evidence of the bond created between Jessie and his family and friends.
MALE RUNNER OF THE YEAR – Reid Vannoy
Presented by Herb Wills
Reid was also the Male Grand Prix winner and is a co-race director of the Palace Saloon 5K.
FEMALE RUNNER OF THE YEAR – Kirsten Baggett
Presented by Laura Howard
Kirsten was second in the Grand Prix standings to former Runner of the Year Sarah Docter-Williams and had a strong 2005 running season, including a Boston qualifying marathon effort at the Ultra. Laura Howard made a very moving tribute to her friend and training mentor.
BILL LOTT VOLUNTEER OF YEAR AWARD – Beth Alexander
Presented by Nadine Dexter
Beth was, I believe, one of the most surprised people at the awards ceremony and one of the most deserving. Nadine Dexter gave her version of how much Beth has meant to the beginning running classes and remind us all what a great job she has done as club secretary.
CLEVELAND-CALDWELL ADVANCEMENT OF THE SPORT – Perry Shaw
Presented by Tom Perkins
It would only make sense that one of the “fat boys” own would make this presentation to Perry Shaw. Coach Shaw has been a member of the Tallahassee running scene since before his days as a sub 4:10 miler at FSU. He has been the bedrock of the Thursday night summer track meets for at least 15 years and a mentor to many young runners.
RACE DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR – Kathy McDaris
Presented by Felton Wright
By the time Felton finished listing all the “firsts” Kathy has brought to directing this race, it was clear just how she had earned this award. The Red Hills Triathlon brings the club and Tallahassee great recognition throughout the southeast.
TRIATHLETE OF THE YEAR – Barbara McNeal
Presented by Robert McNeal
The other part of our “brother story”, Robert McNeal was the perfect choice to present this award to his sister Barbara. Not only did he convey his deep love for her to the crowd, he had the “inside” scoop on her tremendous accomplishments in 2005 and before. And as Barbara said, “The only thing better than this award is having my brother present it.”
COMMUNITY AWARD – U-Haul University Center (and Manager Malysa Baucum)
Presented by Judy Alexander
The U-Haul Center is a multi-year sponsor of Turkey Trot, providing a large truck that enables Judy Alexander and Brian Corbin to gather and deliver the tons of food and clothes the race participants bring on Thanksgiving Day.
Pay it Forward Awards – These awards recognize special contributions above and beyond by GWTC members. Tom Scott was recognized for his excellent photography. Tim Unger was recognized for his outstanding contributions to the GWTC team racing efforts.
Track Athlete – Bill Tharpe was recognized for his outstanding achievement in national and world masters competition. Bill competed in the 100 and 200 meters.
Ultra Runners – Danny Fortunas, Jeff Bryan and Gary Griffin were recognized for their outstanding achievements in completing 100 mile runs. Danny did the Leadville Trail 100, which is all above 10,000 feet, in 29:50:57; Jeff Bryan completed the Arkansas Traveler 100 in 26:44:28 and Gary Griffin finished 21st in the US Championships at the Olander 100 in Sylvania, Ohio in a time of 21:45:39.
The GWTC Awards Committee for 2005 were Paul Ahnberg (Chair), Lisa Unger (Vice Chair), Jeanne O’Kon, Jo Lena Pace and David Yon. Jackie McDaniel will replace Jo Lena Pace in 2006 and Lisa Unger will serve as Chair.