Runner Profiles by Bob Slowpants

Friday
Nov032017

Jim Merritt - The Day NEVER Ends

Jim Merritt was the second of four children born to Lois and Lula Merritt in November 1947.  Just for the record, Jim’s father was named Lois.  This was almost like the Johnny Cash hit a boy named Sue before anybody thought about it!  Jim, like Bob Slowpants, grew up in the hills of Tennessee.  He graduated from Rutledge High School in 1965.  Jim attended Hiwassee Junior College in Athens, Tennessee for two years and obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in Secondary Education and Phycology with a minor in Biology from Tennessee Wesleyan University.

Jim began his career as a public-school teacher in the spring of 1969 and continued in that profession until 1974.  Jim taught middle school, with 5th grade being his favorite.  His second career was as a Greyhound bus driver after the movie “Midnight Cowboy” became popular.  Jim drove those buses hard until sidelined by a strike in 1990.  Jim began a third career as a delivery driver for a printing company in Lawrenceville, GA until retiring in 2014. 

Jim and his wife Linda celebrated thirty-one years together in August.  Jim describes this as the “second go-around” for both.  Jim has four children from his first marriage and Linda has two from her first marriage.  For those keeping score, Jim has eleven grandchildren, all produced by his four children.   

Jim and LindaBoth Jim and Linda had been smokers since they were teenagers.  Linda was diagnosed in the summer of 1998 with emphysema and they both ceased smoking.  Jim feels it was a misdiagnosis, but he accepted it as a wake-up call.  About a month after Jim stopped smoking, he found he was adding weight.  He tried walking it off but, in a fit of impatience, began running.  His first run was a half mile and Jim thought he was going to die!  Shortly thereafter Jim was doing pre-dawn runs before he went to work. Jim ran his first race in the spring of 1999, the Heart Trek 10K.  Speed dialing to the present, Jim has participated in three hundred and seventy-nine races, with majority being 5K distances.  He was running on almost every day except Sunday.  Jim began to wonder on October 28,2001 (a Sunday!) how many runs in a row he might be able to string together if he included running on Sunday.  When Jim completed his run on October 28th, he has completed sixteen years of running without missing a single day.  Even die hard Georgia Runner Grand Prix and Black bag participants cannot say this!   

 Jim has concentrated on trail runs the last seven years, competing in the Dirty Spokes series and occasionally in the Georgia Runner Grand Prix and Back Bag series.  The photo of Jim with a torch is from the Senior Games in Birmingham, Alabama in June 2017 when Jim was honored as the lead runner for the opening games ceremonies.  In 2017, Jim has a goal of 1390 miles.  If he succeeds his total as of December 31, 2017 will be an amazing 20,000 miles.  Jim is a member of the United States Running Streak Association and currently is one hundred and eleventh on the active streak list.  Four competitors of Jim’s have forty-five years of consecutive daily running.  Jim prides himself on having a short term and long-term goal.  Short term is to run tomorrow! As of September 16th, Jim has completed a total of five thousand and eight hundred and one consecutive days.  His long-term goal is to run every day the rest of his life!  Jim has been running at least a mile a day despite a pesky left knee problem.  When you are Jim and a streak runner, there are no days off!       

Bob checking out from the back of the pack.  Watch for the profiles of Columbus runner Jackie Phillips, and David Breeland.      

Sunday
Sep172017

Donna Presley - Records are made to be broken

Donna Presley was born and raised in Clayton, GA and attended Rabun County High School.  Her father had a service station in Clayton while Donna and her younger sister were attended to by their stay at home mom.  An exciting Saturday night was going down to the service station and jumping on the hose that ran from the pumps to the station until the bell would ring for service.  Donna graduated from Truett McConnell University with a B.A degree in fine arts.  Clayton offered few job prospects other than moonshine running, but nearby Toccoa did have an Oxford Industries manufacturing plant that was seeking administrative help.  Donna soon was attracted to, and forty-nine years ago married, a young man named Tony Presley who worked at Oxford in the distribution center.  Donna later changed employment, moving to a firm that was purchased by Standard Register which produced printed duplicate business forms.  Her position at Standard Register was in Graphic Arts.  Tony became a high school Chemistry and Physics Teacher.

Donna with her awardsDonna is better known as a premier female runner from age forty to her present 70-74 age group.  She has for years, consistently placed in area Run and See Georgia Grand Prix series as well as Black Bag Race Series races.  A check of Georgia-roadracerecords.com discloses that Donna holds the state record for female ages 45-49, 60-64, and 65-69 in five distance categories.  A 2014 article in the Senior Times ranks Donna second in her age group nationally.  Among her personal records are an 18:51 5K, a 40:15 10K, and a 3:20:28 marathon.  Donna’s consistency is apparent with her Georgia State record in age group 65-69 with a 22:26 5K time and a 46:26 10K mark.    

Donna and TonyDonna and Tony Presley were an award-winning running combo until a 1988 bout Tony suffered with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and required a subsequent bone marrow transplant for cancer.  Tony, now cancer free, cheers Donna and helps her prepare for races.  Tony was the first of the pair to begin running in 1978 with Donna later feeding off Tony’s enthusiasm for the sport.  Donna admits that if it were not for Tony’s running she would never have become involved in competitive running.  Neither considered themselves particularly athletic, but both had the self-discipline and drive to excel.  The Presley’s were the fastest husband-wife duo in the Huntsville, AL Rocket City Marathon for two straight years.  A Senior Times article in 2014 describes the pair running twenty-six to twenty-eight miles in marathon preparation, and on one occasion Donna covered thirty-two miles.  Tony has run seventeen marathons prior to his health complications and Donna six.

Donna's 10K state recordDonna’s favorite races include the above-mentioned Rocket City Marathon and the Red-Carpet Half Marathon in Dalton, GA.  Her 10K favorites include the Marigold 10K and the Hartwell Dam Run 10K.  Her favorite 5K races are the Chris Gault 5K in Gainesville, and Pounding for Paws 5K in Arcade near Jefferson, GA.  She also lists the Carpet Capital 10 Miler in Dalton as a favorite.

They both enjoy hiking in the local Old Folks Hiking Club of Toccoa, and volunteering their time assisting at the Toccoa Soup Kitchen and with the Toccoa Stephens County Humane Society.  When not on her feet either running or hiking, Donna enjoys gardening and reading.    

Bob checking out from the back of the pack.  Watch for the profile of Jim Merritt, and of Columbus runner Jackie Phillips.

Saturday
Aug262017

Ken Brown - Unconventional 

Ken Brown was born seventy-four and three quarters years ago in Keene, New Hampshire.  Until Ken was born, Keene was best known for its annual fall Pumpkin Festival memorialized in the Guinness Book of Records for a display of 5,000 carved lit pumpkins.  Ken’s father was an auto mechanic and his mother “did factory work”.  The family moved around New England where work was available with Ken and his younger sister attending seven schools in their twelve years of primary and secondary education.

Ken being pulled by his motherKen, who has less body fat than Don McClellan, started his exercise program at age ten.  Not into team sports (Ken alleges soccer had not yet been invented in New Hampshire), he learned to “speed climb” trees and would hang off limbs.  A older passer-by challenged him one day to do a pull up, so he did and continues to do so even today, frequently hanging upside down for extended periods of time.  He gained strength by moving rocks onto the many rock walls that were prevalent in rural New Hampshire.  As Ken became a teenager, he cut wood for the family and others to heat with during the harsh New England winters.  Ken would “fall” tall black Burch trees, then drag them to where he could “buck them up” to use a bow saw to cut firewood length pieces. 

Ken’s first foray into running was participating in a 1977 Memorial Day five-mile race in Connecticut.  Ken trained and dieted for sixty days in preparation.  At age thirty-four he finished seven hundred out of eight hundred participants.  He followed completing a half marathon three months later with a significantly improved time, and then participated in the 1977 New York City Marathon.  Ken ventured to Chula Vista, California in 1982 to compete in a three hundred-mile six-day race.  On arrival, he learned that the course was two hundred laps around a one quarter mile tract per each fifty-mile increment.

Ken’s brother in law and sister in 1988 moved to Lynchburg, Virginia to attend Jerry Falwell’s ultra conservative Liberty University.  Ken tagged along and landed the job as superintendent of grounds for Liberty.  Ken later moved to Texas where he worked in the same capacity for a large personal estate. Ken began his love of real “tree work” while in Texas.  Meanwhile Ken’s parents self-deported to Florida when they retired.  Ken’s sister and brother in law followed to Florida while Ken settled in Tucker, Georgia.  Ken liked Tucker because “it was in the middle of nowhere, any way you looked!”.  As Tucker grew, no-where became Snellville, GA.  Ken and his first wife produced four children.  She passed away in 1991 and Ken remarried a year later.  Ken has always been able to earn a good living doing lawn service and tree trimming.  This avocation almost came to an end in 1998 when Ken fell out of a tree breaking all “his ribs and shoulder on one side”.  Ken fell so hard that the fall knocked his cell phone thirty feet from where he fell!  Ken learned of a twelve-hour run at Stone Mountain while healing. Unable yet to run, Ken walked thirty miles in the twelve hours.

Ken began to run the Grand Prix Races that Will Chamberlin would direct in the Athens and I-20 corridor west area in 2002.  That year he ran seventy-four series races.  Most of his races now are on the Dirty Spokes series as he prefers trail runs and long-distance challenges.  The good news is that Ken weighed 145 pounds with a twenty-eight-inch waist in High school, and currently carried 157 pounds with a thirty-inch waist on his 5-foot ten-inch frame.  He wants to lose two pounds!  The sad news is that his widowed ninety-four-year-old mother, who was living in Florida with Ken’s sister in home bound hospice care, and passed away on July 24th.  The caring person that he is, Ken was there for her! 

Bob checking out from the back of the pack.  Watch for the profile of North Georgia’s Donna Presley, and the profile of Jim Merritt, another unconventional runner. 

Tuesday
Jul252017

Marie Jesweak - "I DID"

When you read this, Marie will have said “I DO” marrying Jesse Johnson on the 17th of June 2017.  Photos of the pre-marriage event, the Chris Gaunt 5K in Gainesville, featured fellow race enthusiasts with guys wearing tuxedo t-shirts and girls wearing pink, her bridesmaid’s color.  The tribute to Marie was that many of her racing friends came out to the race to celebrate her wedding day. Marie obliged wearing an outfit that had the embroidered inscription “BRIDE”.    

Digressing Marie is a native Athenian from her start as a newborn at St. Mary’s Hospital in Athens, GA.  Her father worked in the banking industry while her mother stayed at home raising older brother Derek, and two younger sisters, Donna and Jackie.  Marie graduated from Prince Avenue Christian School, the University of Georgia, and earned a Master’s Degree of Science in Mental Health Counseling from New England College.  Marie begin work in 2008 in the social science field and since 2011, has served as a counselor/therapist in the social science field.  Currently, Marie is a Clinical Supervisor at Project Family, LLC where she has worked for the past two years.  Prior to this, she served as a therapist at Advantage Behavioral Health Systems.  She is available for post-race awards ceremony counseling of runners!  You must take a number like you do to run a race.

Marie met Jesse at Jittery Joe’s in 2016.  He quickly became her “best friend and love of her life”.  Jesse is a Registered Forester/Sales Agent with Southern Land Exchange specializing in timber and recreational properties.  The company web site quotes Jesse as “strongly believing that it is man’s call to be responsible stewards over God’s creations”.  I guess that is why Jesse married Marie!  Marie and Jesse reside in Arnoldsville, GA (2000 census population 312) with their 10 chickens.   

Marie’s running inspiration has been her older brother Derek.  He ramped up to running a race most weekends in 2014.  Derek’s “diligence and commitment to get out every Saturday morning and run” inspired Marie.  She set a goal on January 1, 2015 to participate in a race every weekend, and only missed four weekends that year.  Currently Marie is ranked second in the female 35-39 age group in both the Run and See Georgia Grand Prix and the Black Bag race series. Racing has become a tradition and created “a lot of fun memories” that she and Derek share.  Her inspiration when lacing up each Saturday is knowing that she will be running with friends that she has become close to since 2015.  These friendships are “a blessing” in her life culminating in fellow runners coming together to celebrate her pending wedding at the Chris Gault race.  When not running, Marie can be found riding her road bike and eating pizza.

Bob checking out from the back of the pack.  Watch for the profile of Ken Brown and of North Georgia’s Donna Presley.

Sunday
Jun182017

Pastor Mike Taylor - Running to Help Us Save Ourselves

“Let us run the race with endurance the race set before us …” (Hebrews 12:1)

Mike was raised in St. Louis, experiencing the ups and downs of the Cardinals and the St. Louis Blues.  His father was a regional sales representative for Allstate Tires.  Mike’s mother had a position in the banking industry that provided numerous opportunities for Mike to meet St. Louis Cardinal stars like Lou Brock and Stan Musial.  Mike initially burned out on running during his high school years of football practice.  Running hills was punishment for a poor team effort, and his Brentwood St. Louis high school football team was not very good!  Mike prepared academically for his pastoral calling by acquiring a B.A. in Psychology from Culver-Stockton College, a Masters of Divinity from Emory University, and further doctoral work in Church Growth at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California.  Later after relocating to Georgia, Mike pursued more Masters work in Adult Education and Gerontology (to assist us runners in the 70-74 age group) and Marriage and Family Therapy at the University of Georgia.  Mike has made a sincere effort to acquire as many degrees as Bo Ryles!

Mike and DaughterMike and his wife Allison will have been married for forty years this coming November.  They have two grown children and five grandchildren.  Son Chris and his wife reside in Buford with their three children while daughter Catherine and her husband and two children live in nearby Cumming.  Mike has been a pastor for “nearly all his life”, beginning his calling in the ministry in the fall of 1973.  Mike has served churches in Missouri, Alabama, and Georgia.  His pastoral experience included organizing a new church in the East Orange County, California communities of Yorba Linda and Anaheim Hills.  In the 1990 Mike had an eight-year stint outside of pastoral ministry where he worked with Christian Financial Concepts of Gainesville, GA-a ministry that taught how to manage money on Biblical principles.  In his role with that ministry Mike traveled, training volunteer budget counselors and teaching church members to become debt free.  Mike co-authored several books and workbooks, some of which are still in print-Money before Marriage, Hope When It Hurts, Money in Marriage, Damaged but not Broken, and Hope at the Bottom.  Some of these would be good titles for races!  Mike currently serves his Flat Creek Baptist Church of Gainesville family as pastor since the fall of 2011.

Mike did not return to running until age 53, when he registered for his first of what will be this year his eighth Peachtree Road Race.  To qualify Mike had to submit a 10K finish time, which he acquired while learning about age groups, points, and series.  Despite not enjoying winter running (his joints hurt and as we say in the South “stove up”) and scheduling few races before March of each year, Mike peaked at eighty-eight races in 2010 and has been a familiar site at area races since then.  He was “blessed” to meet and know Will Chamberlin, who encouraged Mike and many other race participants. Mike prefers running in hot weather.  Among the hottest races, he has endured was a “Burning Up the Blacktop” in Athens and a 91 degree “Miles for Moriah” on 21 June 2016.  He is thankful that he got hooked into the “Run and See Georgia” series, then connected with the Black Bag Race Series, and now Mark and Nancy Kelly in the AAA Health Race Series.  The Flat Creek Baptist Church through Mike’s initiative has sponsored the Chris Gaunt 5K Run Over Parkinson’s for the last five years.  The race honors Chris Gaunt, a Flat Creek member and runner now sidelined with Parkinson’s.  The race to date has raised over $20,000 for Parkinson’s research.  Those of us who know Mike know that he runs with a purpose!      

Bob checking out from the back of the pack.  Watch for the profile on Marie Jesweak and the profile of ageless Ken Brown.