Running club saved by next generation

TACOMA, Wash. — A disturbing note was tucked deep on the second page of the Spring 2015 issue of the Fort Steilacoom Running Club’s newsletter.

Under the header “Last Call” came an explanation that five of the six club officers were ready to retire. Were there any volunteers interested in filling the positions? Its conclusion, “If there isn’t enough support, 2015 will be the club’s last year.”

At the next meeting, two eager volunteers showed up, and the board was skeptical. It seemed the club, founded in 1971, and its six races were coming to an end.

Then the volunteers, Amber McMahon and Darrin Hatcher, pleaded their case.

“I said, ‘You guys have put so much work into this for so many years, what a shame to let it dissolve away into nothing.’ ” McMahon said.

McMahon volunteered to take over as president. Hatcher offered to be vice president and serve as race director for the club’s biggest event, the Resolution Run Series.

Their energy was contagious. Two of the five retiring officers — treasurer Ron Angeline and secretary Dianne Foster — agreed to postpone retirement. “They agreed to be our bridges (between eras),” Hatcher said.

“We were really impressed by Amber and Darrin and people like (Washington High cross-country coach) Allen Culp,” Angeline said.

The club was at a crossroads many local running, cycling, trail advocacy and other outdoor groups are finding themselves quickly approaching. They’re old and in need of new blood.

The Fort Steilacoom Running Club is finding that passing the torch can do more than just keep the club from folding. Fresh energy can help them reach new levels.

“I think having the new blood and the old blood on the board creates a great dynamic,” McMahon, 31, said.

The club staged its annual Turkey Trot in November and its Four on the Fourth has become an Independence Day tradition in Steilacoom. But the club’s biggest event is one of the South Sound’s oldest races: The Resolution Run Series.

Participants can run in any or all of the four races. The races start Jan. 1 with an option of 5 kilometers or 5 miles. Each race adds 5 kilometers or 5 miles.

“A lot of people look forward to the Resolution series,” Angeline said of the race that turns 43 next year. But not as many as there should be, said new race director Hatcher, 49.

In fact, McMahon remembers running the series a few years ago. She loves the sport but doesn’t consider herself a competitive runner, so she was surprised to receive a ribbon at the end of the series.

“The announcer said, ‘You’re the only female 25-30. You get a ribbon. Bring your friends next time,’ ” McMahon said.

Angeline and other board members were convinced one of the primary reasons participation was dwindling was because they did not use chip timing.

When Hatcher took over, he insisted on chip timing. While it might not be a big deal to many recreational runners, chip timing gives races more credibility.

As Hatcher went to work tweaking the venerable race series, McMahon was making changes for the club.

She started a Facebook page, “which you have to have to be relevant with younger runners.” Photographers were added for races.

While the club and Resolution Run Series was saved for 2016, organizers couldn’t help but feel as if circumstances were conspiring against them.

Word of the race’s demise was already out, dampening interest. For the first race, temperatures were frigid (The low was 15 degrees, according to Accuweather). At the second race, heavy rain pelted the runners. On the day of the third race, a police chase and shootout on Interstate 5 snarled traffic and kept many from reaching the starting line.

Still, Hatcher estimates the four races had a combined 850 finishers. Many of them took a moment to thank Hatcher, McMahon and others for keeping the club and the runs alive.

“That felt really good to hear,” McMahon said.

Now, with more than a year under their belt and the 2017 Resolution Run Series quickly approaching, the club has more plans for growth.

They’re using revenue from the run series to fund a college scholarship for a Pierce County cross-country runner. They hope to add a seventh race.

Exciting as it all is, Angeline says he and Foster still plan to retire. Angeline said he wants to help the club earn its federal tax-exempt status (it already has this status with the state) before he steps down.

And he won’t be the least bit nervous about the club’s future when he retires, he said. “It’s in good hands.”

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