(The following article appeared in the Thagard Rocket, the newsletter of the Thagard Student Health Center, Florida State University, and is reprinted here with permission from Mae Cleveland and Linda Sturgeon, editor. Photo by Rex Cleveland.)
Thagard Student Health Center is proud of its resident athletes, and especially pleased when honors and recognition come their way as it did recently for Mae Cleveland who heads our Nutrition Department here at the Health Center. In her own words, Mae tells what this award means to her.
The word is out now all over Thagard that I received the Gulf Winds Track Club Female Runner of the Year Award for 1998. Since people ask me “How did you do it?” I thought I’d say a little about it, but first I do want to talk about the Gulf Winds Track Club. The Club, a Florida nonprofit corporation, has really developed over the years; next year marks the 25th Anniversary. The envy of many other clubs, Gulf Winds is renowned for its ability to round up volunteers at its events. Sometimes it seems as if more volunteers than runners are participating in a race, such as our Ultra Distance event (50 Miles) where we may have 50 runners and 90 volunteers. But the other thing about the Gulf Winds running club is that it is very charitable. Each year the Turkey Trot races, held on Thanksgiving morning, raise over fifteen hundred dollars, plus collect food donations, for The Shelter. The Club has an endowment fund for giving scholarships to young, active athletes at the middle and high school levels. Gulf Winds Track Club is a Partner-in-Excellence with Gretchen Everhart School and each year provides volunteers and t-shirts for the Champs Day Middle School cross-country runs held on the school’s campus. The Club meets the financial requests of the Tallahassee Parks and Recreation Department for ribbons, t-shirts and other expenses to put on the 8 weeks of Summer Track Meets. Through Gulf Winds, runners, walkers and triathletes give to the community while participating in their sports. Last year alone, the Club contributed over $3000 to local schools to support and promote sports and fitness events. In addition to the Shelter, the Club helped raise money for the Women’s Pavilion, Habitat for Humanity, American Cancer Society, and Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
In receiving the Runner Award, not only was I surprised, but after reading these awards guidelines — “In naming its Runners of theYear, Gulf Winds Track Club 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” — I feel truly honored.
I have competed in many distances over my years of running, all the way up to 50 kilometers (33.1 miles) but my favorite is the mile. A highlight in 1998 was competing in the Mid-Atlantic Street Mile Grand Prix Series in Virginia and Maryland. There were four miles in the series and I ran three of them and won my age division and set course age group records in all three. These were all run in the downtown areas of historic old towns.
The Loudoun Street Mile in Winchester, Virginia, is a straight stretch, the last quarter mile over traffic-free brick streets, finishing in front of the court house. In Fredericksburg, Virginia, the race runs one-half mile through downtown (it’s a small town), turns and goes a block, turns again and comes back along the Rappahannock River to finish at the river’s dock. The last race, in Frederick, Maryland, my home town, was part of Frederick’s annual In The Street festival. The course was entirely on Market Street but it is curvy and has a few slight hills. While warming up, I ran over to my niece’s house who lives two blocks from the start, to say hello and encourage her to join in. Flashing her great smile, she declined but yelled “Go Girl” as I ran off. The races were all run in “heats” of various groupings. Men’s and women’s and youth divisions all ran separately, with some men’s races having several heats, depending on the number of registered runners.
The other major aspect of my year’s running was track events. The first big one was the USATF National Masters Track Meet, held in Orono (Or’-uh-no), Maine. The first event was the 800 meters (2 laps around the track). I finished second to Marilyn Morehead of Ann Arbor, Michigan. We have competed against one another in the past, as well as together on the bronze-medal USA team in the 400 meter relay at the World Veterans Track and Field Meet held in Buffalo in 1995. We have become good friends and keep in touch through email. This year was the first time Marilyn won a National Championship race, so I was really delighted for her (don’t get me wrong, I would have been happier had I won). My other race in Orono was 1500 meters (.926 of a mile) in which I won the gold medal. Marilyn was in this race also, so we came away even from this meet.
My husband, Rex, travels with me to races most of the time. This is a good thing for me, since he is my majordomo–support crew, water boy, equipment manager, and general logistics overseer. Rex is the editor and photographer for the award-winning Gulf Winds newsletter, the Fleet Foot. His photos have adorned newsletter covers for more than fifteen years as well as have appeared in other running and track publications. Some of you have seen his fine photography in the slides of our travels. Did I mention he also runs and races!
Outside of college or professionally, there are few opportunities to compete in track meets. But the Senior Games, for the over 50 crowd, are taking hold all over the country and offer many sports events. Back in Florida in the fall, I competed in several meets. My goal was to qualify for the National Seniors Track event to be held at Disney World in 1999. I did qualify, winning the 400, 800, and 1500 meter races in Kissimmee and Sarasota. I have always felt that everyone should be required at some time to attend a masters/ veterans/ seniors–whatever you want to call the over 40 set–to see folks from age 40 to 80 run, jump, and throw things (I always thought throwing the javelin would be neat) just to see the physical possibilities at any age. I often hear people say “I wish I could do that at age 50.” Few of these athletes are world class and many began their sport after midlife (whenever that is). I guess the main elements are seeing that it can be done and a desire. Most people won’t want to be that active, but it certainly should help our perception of what 40, 50, and 60 and beyond can be.
Those street miles and track meets were the highlights for me. I also competed in a number of 5 kilometer road races (3.1 miles), winning some category (age group, masters, or even first female overall) in every one of them. When first asked to write about my getting the Runner of the Year award, it felt a bit boastful to talk about doing this and winning that. But now that I have reviewed my 1998 year, I do feel proud, as well as honored.