The sport of running has changed quite a bit since Kate Gerbitz was the Queen of the Road among Chattanoogans back in the early 1980s.
We all know how much has changed with shoes and running gear in general, not to mention training techniques and nutrition.
But Kate was the best in town back in the day when the running boom first took off and local folks were hitting the road in record numbers. Taking part in Saturday morning races became the expected thing to do to start a weekend and she was the leader of the pack.
When this writer first started covering Chattanooga Track Club events in 1981, Kate was one of the ones I got to know really well because she was the women's winner virtually every time. And her kindness to me was unparalleled as she was an English teacher and made me feel really comfortable interviewing her after a race.
But fast forward to 2014 and this young lady is still as active as she ever was.
She had a knee replacement a dozen years ago and doesn't log the regular 40-50 mile weeks that she did in the beginning, but she is pretty competitive on the tennis court at least twice a week and she's a regular on the golf course where she tries to get in 18 holes at least six days a week, walking and carrying her bag the whole way.
Kate says that she's 69, but she doesn't look a day over 29. She and her husband Gary -- an outstanding lawyer who served as the Attorney General and later a Judge -- just celebrated their 48th anniversary on June 11.
They are the proud parents of two daughters -- Leah and Leslie -- and more than proud to be the grandparents of Jane, Kate, Emeline and Grady.
Kate grew up on a farm in Kentucky where her family grew tobacco. She later went to college at David Lipscomb in Nashville where she met the love of her life.
They moved to Chattanooga in 1968 when he started his law practice and she served as an English and Math teacher at Central, Boyd-Buchanan and GPS before retiring after more than 20 years in the classroom.
"I retired when our first grandchild arrived as you know there's such a small window of time before they get busy with friends and no longer have time for parents or grandparents," Kate said earlier this week before a morning workout at the Downtown YMCA.
When Kate was growing up, sports weren't much available for girls, so she earned her keep as a cheerleader. "I'm so glad they have much better opportunities now," she nodded.
She really doesn't remember the exact start of her running career, only to say that Gary and some of his buddies had started running and she started running with them.
"It got to the point where they wouldn't tell me where the finish line was because they got tired of me beating them all the time," she laughed.
"I had that knee replacement in 2002 and could probably still run, but I'm afraid to as I would never hear the end of it if I got hurt again. I still play a lot of golf and tennis and do Pure Barre classes across the river at least four times a week and sometimes more," she said when asked about her current workout schedule.
Kate's first race locally was the Chattanooga Chase in 1978. She doesn't remember what her time was, but she'll never forget that she won an age group award and that's what set the racing career in motion.
"I won a trophy that day and that set me off as I couldn't quit. I had been running the course before that race, but was running it backward for some strange reason. I probably could have run faster, but I walked a lot, especially up Minnekahda," she remembered that experience some 36 years ago.
"I won a bunch of races between 1978 and 1987, but I just got too into it and got too thin. I was running too much and it was affecting my health, so I had to back off. I was much lower key after that.
The 10K distance was always one of her favorites and the old Bonne Belle 10K series was one she always took part in.
"I enjoyed those Bonne Belle races and that was the first time I ever broke 40 minutes for the 10K. And I always liked the Great Heart Run when it started and finished on the track at McCallie.
"I never trained for a marathon as my feet just weren't made for longer distances. It's remarkable how well I did under the circumstances.
"A lot of my friends were running back in those days and it turned out to be something I was pretty good at. I averaged 40-50 miles a week as I ran most days, but we didn't have any kind of training schedules or anything like that.
"I had knee problems fairly soon after I started and I was also serious about tennis. The kids were at home then and there was a lot going on, so running was just something I had to fit in. There was simply no time to train for a marathon," she added with a smile.
So now that Kate has reached "middle age" and her priorities have changed a little, what takes up most of her time these days?
"We just love being with the grandkids. I'm also in a book club, so I do quite a bit of reading. But just about anything that has to do with family or being with people is what I love doing.
"I still play golf every day the course is open (closed on Monday) and that's a game I can never conquer. I'm still looking for the perfect day when my putts go in and my drives are straight," she concluded after saying with pride that she has six holes-in-one in her 14-year career on the links.
Life has been exciting for Kate Gerbitz and continues to be. She's still as active as she once was, although her priorities have changed a bit in recent years.
But she's still a delight to be around and a motivating force for those who know her.
And she still likes to talk about the good ole days back when the running boom first began.
She was the leader of the pack in those days and has the results to prove it.
(This is the 17th in a series of runners in the Chattanooga, including many members of the Chattanooga Track Club. If you know of someone who would make an interesting story, email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@Comcast.net)