The Chattanooga Track Club has been an active organization in the Scenic City for more than 40 years, but it's bigger and more active than ever before.
One of the biggest reasons is the involvement of Bill Brock.
Brock is an energetic and enthusiastic 56-year-old local businessman who is currently the president of the Chattanooga Track Club. This is his second stint as the CTC president as he first served back in 2005.
Since that time, the CTC has grown in membership and in its community interaction and Brock has been one of the driving forces behind that growth.
Brock grew up in Chattanooga. He attended McCallie for several years, but his father Bill was a long-time senator and congressman for the state of Tennessee, so the Brock family moved to Washington, D.C. where Bill graduated from St. Alban's.
He attended the University of Florida and Washington & Lee before earning his undergraduate degree from UTC in 2000. He's been involved in the computer industry most of his life and started Technology Projects in 1999. That's a semi-small organization located on North Market Street that builds web applications for companies of all sizes.
He is the one who rebuilt the track club website several years ago. It is now one of the most attractive and informative of any track club website in the Southeast.
While Bill started his running career in cross country at McCallie, he really didn't get serious about it until later. He started running again about 25 years ago and has been involved ever since.
Back in the late 90s, he and his wife Laura created a website for long-distance runners called grouprun.com. In the process, he organized a group that meets every Saturday morning at the downtown YMCA for group runs, ranging anything from a short of 10 miles to upwards of 20 or more.
He posts a schedule several weeks ahead and it's almost always a different route, giving those who want to participate a heads up on what the scheduled route is for the coming week. He even puts out water and PowerAde along the way and even includes food on days when the runs are really long.
On any given Saturday morning, regardless of weather conditions, upwards of 30 or 40 runners gather on the front steps of the Y for a long trek around town.
Bill Brock is always the one with a smile on his face and a positive word to say to anyone who wants to join the group. He's the one you can hear laughing along the way. Very rarely does he go off with the rabbits up front as he chooses to hang around in the back of the pack where he can socialize a bit more.
Bill ran alone for many years. He started back shortly after his mother died and most of his running was done on trails at the Chattanooga Nature Center. Since that time, he's one of the most sociable and outgoing runners on the road. And as you can tell after just a few minutes talking to him, this sport and those who participate are really high on his priority list.
"Dick Miller and I went to Nepal in 1997 and I trained for a half-marathon in preparation for that trip, which included covering 200 miles in 20 days. Dick and I had raised our families together and it seemed like it took years to get him to run with us," Bill recalled one afternoon recently at the downtown Y.
"Laura and I started the group run website in the late 90s, inviting people to come run with us. I've seen so many people come and go, but I found out just how much I love running with other people. All of my heroes are runners and the people I most want to be like all run," he continued.
During his running career, Brock has done more than 40 marathons, two 50Ks and that tough three day, three stage race in Chattanoga where the runners average about 20 miles per day on either Lookout, Signal and Raccoon Mountains.
Brock had a major setback a year ago when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Following surgery and the necessary treatments, he was forced to take about six months off from running completely. However, he rebounded to run another marathon in October.
"It was a really slow process coming back, but I'm beginning to get my weight and speed back," he explained.
He became the CTC president the first time at a point when there was a lot of turmoil in the track club and times were tense. But if there was a man who could get the CTC ship turned back in the right direction and headed back on the right course, Bill Brock was that man.
"Being president back then was hard as there were a lot of politics and tension in the club at that time. But everybody on the board was wonderful and we started looking at a vision of where we wanted the club to be in 25 years and which direction we wanted to go," Brock recalled.
Since that time, the Scenic City Half-Marathon, the Waterfront Triathlon and the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon have become the three signature events for the track club and the three main races that mostly finance the club activities for the rest of the year.
The late Calder Willingham and his wife Betsy were race directors for the triathlon for several years before Calder got sick and they're the ones who suggested that the CTC join in partnership with Team Magic, a professional organization that puts on multi-sport events all over the country.
After the Willinghams resigned from their roles as the director, Sherilyn Johnson and Brock took over as race directors.
"Getting involved with Team Magic was a huge risk financially for the club, but it's turned out to be a great decision," Brock said with pride.
"Calder and Betsy got us in touch with them and they have been wonderful to work with. Now we have a nationally-recognized event that draws participants from all over the country," he added.
Chas Webb served as the track club president for the last 18 months before Brock came back on board and it was his persistence and persuasion that got Brock to say yes for the second time.
"Chas asked if I'd do it again and I agreed if and only if we hired a club manager. I just didn't think I had the time or the energy to do what I had done before and the track club has gone to another level of expertise. Stacey Malecky has been hired as club manager and is doing wonderful things for us.
"We had 900 members at the end of the year and that number continues to grow. The CTC is one of the strongest and most healthy organizations in our community as our whole focus is on health and fitness. We run together all week long and we support a lot of charitable organizations.
"We put on 16 events every year and we support a whole bunch of others, but we've been putting on local races for 45 years. We're just trying to develop a strong organization that can be sustained over time without burning out its volunteers," Brock said.
So what are your running goals for the new year?
"My goal is to run 2,014 miles, which is about 45 miles a week. I also want to set new personal records at every distance from one mile to the marathon," he concluded.
One thing is for sure. The Chattanooga Track Club continues to do good work in this community. Many people have joined hands to make it a successful organization and one of the best is leading the way.
(This is the first in a series of feature stories on runners in the Chattanooga area, including CTC members, officers, volunteers and other people who make running in this city such a positive and worthwhile activity. Email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@Comcast.net with ideas, suggestions or comments)