Abner Oldham A Founding Member Of Chattanooga Track Club

Friendly Investment Broker Passed 72,000 Miles Last Week

Thursday, August 21, 2014 - by John Hunt

Abner Oldham has been running for a long, long time. 

Back when he started as a freshman boarding student at McCallie, very few people ran outside.

  As a matter of fact, there were times he was stopped by police, asking why he was running and who he was running from.

But for a guy who recently celebrated his 74th birthday and who was one of the founding members of the Chattanooga Track Club, running has provided a positive outlet for him as it’s taken him many interesting places and allowed him to meet thousands of interesting people.

Abner is originally from Kentucky, but moved to Chattanooga in the mid 50s to attend McCallie.  That’s when he got introduced to running as he ran cross country for the Blue Tornado and was a miler on the track team.

“I started when I was in the ninth grade and I’ve been running ever since.  I ran when I was in the Marines and I used to do a lot of running at Chickamauga Park. 

“And back in those days, I used to go to the old downtown Y and run on that old indoor track.  I did my first 10-mile run on that track and when I finished, I kept wanting to veer left,” he said with a laugh while relaxing in his Rivervew home earlier this week.

Abner and Kay – his wife of 27 years – bought a house when they first got married and it just happens to be right on the Chattanooga Chase course, located on the left, right before you reach Shady Circle and the two-mile mark.

One distinguishing features about their house is the fact that a water fountain is attached to the right side of their mailbox so passing runners have a place to get a drink during their workout.

“We were putting in a water line at the time and that just seemed like a good idea,” he said when asked about the water fountain.

“Bill Dickerson and I were the first two people to run outside as nobody ran on the streets in those days.  And Joe McGinness had the idea of starting the track club.  Atlanta had a club in those days and we used to have races with them.  That’s how the Chickamauga Chase got started,” Oldham stated.

One of the first road races Abner was involved with was the Chattanooga Chase back in 1970 when it was held on Amnicola Highway.

“I fired the gun at the start and then went down the highway to the halfway point to call times, but I had forgotten to start my watch, so I had to guess what their times might be.  There were about 100 runners that day,” he remembered.

Abner was also a regular at Peachtree on July 4th in Atlanta as he ran it for many years after running it for the first time in 1970, the second year it existed.  He was a regular for a number of years at the Atlanta Half-Marathon on Thanksgiving and the Hogpen Hillclimb in Helen, Ga. was another of his favorite races.

Hogpen  goes from downtown Helen to the top of Hogpen Gap, where the Appalachian Trail crosses the highway.  That’s where the finish line is at the end of a 10.7-mile run that’s one of the toughest around.

“I used to go up there and camp on the Appalachian Trail, just past the finish line.  That way, I had a place to change clothes and I could take a nap when it ended.  We used to take a large group from Chattanooga up there for that race,” he said.

What about his favorite race in Chattanooga?

“That’s a hard question to answer because they were all different.  I remember the first time I ever broke 36 minutes in the Run For Extra Life, that 10K race from UTC to Eastgate.

“I also love running up on Raccoon Mountain and I also like the Greenway.  And Missionary Ridge is so serene with very little traffic,” he added.

Abner ran a dozen marathons and had a personal best of 2:55 at Marine Corp in Washington.  He was able to break three hours on two occasions.  He also ran Boston twice, including 1976 when the temperature at the start was 100 degrees.

“It had cooled down to the mid 80s by the time we finished, but I was running with ice in my hat.  Even though the conditions were horrible, I had to finish because I had trained so hard to get there,” he said, admitting that his time that day was around 3:05.

Oldham works for himself these days as the owner of a small investment retirement service.  He became a registered broker in 1967 and worked for several companies until he started his own company some 24 years ago. 

“I handle investments for mostly retired people now and it keeps me busy, but I love working for myself,” he explained.

While Abner doesn’t run as far or as fast as he once did, he still logs about 25 miles a week.  Just last week, he surpassed 72,000 miles.

“It’s been great being part of the Chattanooga Track Club since the beginning.  To see how the club has grown and improved really makes me happy.  Running has been a great experience for me.

“There’s a two-mile course at McCallie called Billy Goat Hill and my best time on that was a 9:44 and my time of 4:36 was the school record in the mile for about 10 years.  And I’m real proud of that 2:55 at Marine Corps as all of the McGinnesses were there that day,” he recalled.

He does most of his running and working out at the downtown Sports Barn and there’s a special run he does every Tuesday.

“I go over to the Jewish cemetery next to UTC (between Mable Street and Third) and put a penny on Judy Stoller’s grave every Tuesday.  We used to run a lot together and she would stop every time she’d see a penny on the ground.  I’ve been doing that for the last 11 years,” he said about the lady who was a faithful CTC member before cancer took her life.

He also enjoys backpacking and has been on some incredible trips to places like Colorado, Alaska, Montana and Canada.  He was in New Hampshire back in 2001 when the tragedy at the World Trade Center in New York took place.

“We didn’t even know what was going on, but our trip got cut short by that horrible act.  We had to drive back to Chattanooga as nobody wanted to fly.

“But I still love backpacking as I have all the equipment and clothes.  I also play poker with some friends and we’ve doing that every week for the last 35 years.  And I’ve started playing golf in recent years, although I’m not very good at it,” he said.

Kay has never been a runner, but their 26-year-old daughter Kaytie runs or walks every day, although Abner has never run with her.

“She’s a very private person and does her own thing, but she’s dedicated to staying in shape,” her father stated.

The Chattanooga Track Club is bigger and better today than it ever has been, but one of the reasons is that a guy like Abner Oldham helped perpetuate the idea back in the late 60s when running wasn’t as popular.

But he’s still at it all of these years later and he’s still got a connection to the running community in Chattanooga. 

And if you’re ever running on the Chattanooga Chase course and need a drink, find the water fountain on the right side of the mailbox at 1529 Sunset Road.

Just thank Abner as you head on your way as he continues to help those on the run.

(This is the 26th in a series of runners in Chattanooga, including many members fo the Chattanooga Track Club.  If you know of someone who would make an interesting story, email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@comcast.net)



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