It was a day of celebration at Chattanooga State on Monday morning.
Despite an early-morning shower and humidity that neared 100 percent, a whole bunch of folks gathered for the 25th Annual 5K For FCA. More specifically, there were 369 who finished the 3.1-mile race while another 63 took part in the first-ever 10K that was part of this popular event. In addition, there were at least another 100 or so who took part in the Kiddie K.
Louis and Sandy Priddy have been long-time supporters of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in the Chattanooga area. They are the ones who came up with the idea back in 1988 when Louis was the owner of the Front Runner Athletics
Chad Varga bought it from the Priddys some 12 years ago and has continued a wonderful tradition for the first Monday in September.
Jay Fowler, who is now the executive director for FCA’s Chattanooga region, recognized and honored Louis and Sandy and presented them with a framed T-shirt and a race bib with the number 25 on it.
“For a change, I’m speechless,” the 77-year-old Louis told the crowd who was waiting for the awards ceremony to begin.
“I had nine members of my family here today and eight of them participated in the event. I’m embarrassed to tell you the one who didn’t, but I just want to tell you how much I appreciate your supporting this event and for supporting FCA in Chattanooga,” he continued.
“They asked me to be the official starter for the Kiddie K. They finally found a job that matches my talent,” he joked earlier.
Wade and Laura, the Priddy’s children, were also present with their families on this memorable day. Wade is a U.S. Marine who has been in Afghanistan for a long time while Laura and her family live in Nashville. The only Priddy not present was Andy, who is a freshman at Texas Christian.
Wade and his wife Debbie ran with Bailey, their daughter who is a seventh-grader at Baylor and who was celebrating her 13th birthday on Monday.
While the Priddy’s presence made it a more significant day than normal, there was still some outstanding running going on.
Bryson Harper, the head cross country and track coach at Bryan College, was the overall winner in the 5K with a time of 16:36 as he averaged 5:21 for the flat and fast circular course.
Geno Phillips was the leader for the first two and a half miles, but had to settle for the runner-up spot in 16:45.
Nick McCormick, last year's overall winner in 16:21, was third in 16:55 while Dean Thompson and Andy Highlander completed the top five with times of 17:13 and 17:34, respectively.
There was a pretty fierce battle for first place among the ladies, but in the end, it was 27-year-old Jessica Marlier who beat Sarah Woerner to the line by the tennis courts next to the Chattanooga State gymnasium.
Marlier averaged 5:56 in winning with a time of 18 minutes, 26 seconds and was the 12th finisher overall while Woerner was right behind in 13th as she posted a time of 18:48.
Emily Lasater was third among the ladies and 29th overall in 20:05 while Dianna Leun was the female masters winner in fourth with a time of 20:32. Gloria Pascual was fifth in 20:47.
Hugh Enicks was the class of the 10K race as the 54-year-old stud averaged 6:03 in winning with a time of 37:34. Ryan Henning was second in 39:31 while John Gracy was third in 41:42.
Katie Smith was fifth overall and first among the ladies in 46:20 and was followed by Stacey Malecky in 53:15 and Wendy Ransom in 56:27.
Harper has been spending a lot more time working with his team than worrying about his own training. Despite running much less than he’s used to, he was more than capable of winning on one of the fastest courses in the Chattanooga area.
“I was hurting as this was my first race in two years,” the 24-year-old said afterward.
“I’m trying to get back in shape. Geno led the whole way, but when we hit a little uprising about a half-mile out, I heard him breathing hard and that’s when I threw in a surge. He didn’t go with me.
“I was just wanting to have some fun today and to encourage my grandmother. I wasn’t expecting to win, but this is good motivation to keep training,” he added.
His grandmother is 85-year-old Jean Horgan, who completed the distance in 45:39 and was 354th out of the 369 who finished the 5K.
Phillips had taken 10 days off as he addressed a pulled groin muscle, so he may not have been as quick as he may have been on another day.
“It turned out about the way I thought it would. We ran together for the first two and a half miles, but he picked it up and I didn’t go. I feel like I’m better than that, but I did all I could today as I didn’t hold back. Those 10 days off hurt,” the 42-year-old geography teacher at Red Bank Middle suggested.
Marlier is a substitute teacher looking for fulltime work who is coaching the cross country team at Spalding Elementary. She’s formerly from Florida, but moved here in 2005 to attend Southern Adventist University. She’s pointing toward the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon in November, but will serve as a pacer for at least four other marathons leading up to it. She’ll celebrate her 28th birthday on Sept. 18.
“I feel like things went well today, although I probably started out too quick. This is the first time for me to run this course and I tried to stay consistent with my pace. I’m definitely happy,” she said, admitting that her 5K PR is 17:55.
“I stayed ahead the whole time, but I knew that Sarah was right on my heels, so I put a little more pep in my step,” she concluded with a smile.
Woerner is also a physical education teacher who was at Hardy Elementary until the guy she was replacing returned from military active duty. She’s now teaching a health class at Lee University and she’s got her goal set on the Chicago Marathon in October.
“She went out a lot harder than I wanted to go, but I still got a personal best by 35 seconds,” Woerner said.
“I ran about as hard as I could for a muggy morning, but things really started to go South in the last half mile. I’m looking forward to Chicago,” she concluded, noting that she’ll log about 70 miles this week.
Enicks is much like Phillips in that he’s still running extremely well for a guy who is getting a little older…at least in terms of those who normally compete for overall honors in local road races.
The Junior ROTC instructor and coach at Red Bank High School has been battling illness all week, but it didn’t seem to slow him down too much.
“I’ve been sick all week with an ear infection and also a sinus infection. I was hoping to run around 36:40, which is the state record for guys my age.
“The course seemed long, but I was by myself the whole time. I ran with the 5K leaders until we split off,” he added.
John Dixon was recognized as the only runner who has taken part in all 25 FCA 5Ks. He’s formerly a principal at Polk County High School who helped start their cross country program years ago and he always brought a busload of kids down for this Labor Day event.
“I used to do the Camp Cherokee Cross Country Run in Cleveland on Labor Day, but they discontinued it and I started coming down here,” the personable 67-year-old recalled.
“I think it’s only rained about three times in those 25 years, but this is a great event. We used to bring a bunch of kids on a bus from Polk County. I got married 12 years ago and my wife Linda has been coming here all those years. My son Barton is now 11 and he’s been here every time. He runs cross country for Ocoee Middle School in Cleveland.
“My time today was 45:56, which is really slow. I used to run about twice that fast. Barton beat his daddy by about 15 minutes today. (He was 221st overall in 30:33.) In addition to running all of these races, I’ve also done every Karen Lawrence Run for St. Jude on New Year’s Eve.
“I’ve really been blessed with good health to be able to do all of that, but they aren’t far and they certainly aren’t fast,” the founding member of the Porky Pig Striders added with a smile.
There were several folks who ran their first races on Monday morning, including Charlotte Ann Haddock, the eight-year-old daughter of Amy and John Haddock. This young lady was 218th overall in 30:34 and was followed by her mother, who was a standout cross country and track runner at Baylor in the mid 90s.
Races like this always demand a large number of volunteers who serve in number of capacities to make everything unfold in a smooth and timely manner. Such was the case again on Monday. One group who stepped up in a big way was the UTC women’s soccer team.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)