|These Friends Go The Distance|
Long-run club is Winter Park's 'running chamber of commerce'
It was a dark, cool Sunday morning when Jack Gallagher and Dave Barry turned up at the corner of Welbourne and Park avenues. The two men, both in their late 70s, were already cracking jokes before dawn.
Slowly, other members of their running club gathered on the corner, stretching and greeting each other as the old friends they had become. There was more to this bunch of runners than their bright athletic gear and cheerful faces.
They jogged north down the middle of Park Ave.; so clear of traffic it seemed like a secret alley instead of a busy street. Light from the morning sun speckled the brick road before them.
Winter Park's Sunday morning long-run group runs up to 11 ñ or more ñ miles starting at 7 a.m. Their course moves from Park and Welborne to residential areas of Via Tuscany near Lake Maitland, and then curves down Phelps past the Winter Park Country Club's golf course to Lakemont Avenue. From there they run near Glenridge Way to Lake Sue and Lake Virginia until they reach the corner where the run began.
The group has become the city's 'running chamber of commerce,' said Patrick Chapin, president and CEO of the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce. 'I've definitely heard a lot of good things about them,' he said.
The fact that many runners live and work in Winter Park puts them in a position to show off the community. Their friendliness and willingness to help visitors makes them good ambassadors, supporters say.
Founded as part of the Orlando Runners Club, the Sunday long-run group was established in the 1970s as a marathon-training program for Orlando running store Track Shack. Now a separate group, Gallagher serves as an organizational leader for the group and leads by example. Most recently he ran the SpaceCoast marathon.
In addition to locals, the group attracts visiting runners from all over the country, and the world. Gallagher credits Track Shack's Orlando Runners Club website (orlandorunnersclub.org) and the Sunday Runners Club blog (orcsunday.blogspot.com) for attracting a diverse group.
They Come from Far and Wide
Lynne McCann has worked for the Army for 15 years, initially as a reservist. She runs with the Sunday group whenever she is in town, and she brings her son along with her.
McCann learned Russian at Winter Park High School and the University of Central Florida in the late 1970s. She then went to the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, Calif., as an Army Reservist where she further enhanced her Russian language skills. Her experience as a Russian linguist ultimately helped her win her current Pentagon job.
'I became a runner in 1981 when my mother made a comment about eating so much at a birthday celebration that she would have to go for a bike ride the next day,' McCann said. 'I told her that I would run along beside her.'
'One thing about the group is that it's very different people with varied backgrounds,' said Carol Sugars, a commercial pilot and another member of the Sunday group. The long-run group has hosted runners from Australia, Brazil, Jamaica and Canada to name a few. Attendance averages about 10 runners every week.
Sugars has been a runner for 20 years, the last year with the Winter Park group. 'I've run in every city I've flown to,' she said. 'Bogot·, Colombia, and Mexico City are about the only places I haven't run.'
Every runner has his or her own story: Seth Elsheimer is a chemistry professor at the University of Central Florida. He has run a marathon in every state in the country.
'My house is on the five-mile mark in Windsong,' he said. 'I heard all these healthy people outside my house on Sunday mornings, and I wanted to run with them.'
The Years Teach Much the Days Never Knew
Bob Raymond, 77, is the oldest member of the group and says that he has run in every state and every state capital. Raymond moved to Orlando in 1983 and joined the Winter Park group four years later. A recent accomplishment: His daughter and granddaughter ran a three-generation marathon in Dublin, Ireland.
At 18, Jarily Alvarez is the youngest member of the group. She is also a high jumper, pole-vaulter and cross-country runner at Timber Creek High School in Orlando. She credits her Sunday morning runs for inspiring her interest in high school sports.
Jari Alvarez, her mother and the other half of the club's 'JJ girls,' has been in the club one year and has been running since 2007. She originally began working out because of a bad back. She started walking, which soon turned into long-distance running.
'It [the club] really motivates you,' she said. 'You have your times when you don't feel like running and the group keeps you going.'
Going the Distance
'You don't have to worry about being amazing at it right away,' member Dede Kelly said. Kelly, who is a special education teacher, found out about the group from the Orlando Runners Club website. She just began running last July after losing about 120 pounds.
Kelly said she chose running because of how simple it was to do. 'With running it's just you, the road and sneakers.'
'It's very low-pressure,' she said. 'The group is so fluid and informal. I'm terribly shy, so getting to know people is great for me.'
Her fellow members feel the same way.
'You probably could sense the genuine affection that we have for each other,' Gallagher said. 'It is rare for someone my age to have such wonderful relationships with younger people, and it's a major factor in my hanging in with this group since 1987.'
Every Sunday that joggers decide to run the circuit instead of staying in bed is full of rewards, members say. As they return to Park Avenue, now lit up with a full morning's light, runners return to their families and friends healthier, happier people.
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