On the Road with the White River Roadrunners

EDITOR'S NOTE: On the Road is your column. Check out our archive for previous travels On the Road, and remember we invite you to share your own story, cause or advice with our members.


By BRUCE OAKLEY
White River Roadrunners president elect

The White River Roadrunners may have saved your sanity a time or two by providing you with a ready stable of running buddies for those moments when you wonder why you stick with it. Maybe they've left your sanity behind but saved your waistline. You are not alone: As a matter of fact, the Roadrunners began as a rescue mission.

Sit right back and I'll share some highlights of the club history compiled by Joe Pool, our first president. (Roadrunners, please let me know if I've missed or misconstrued anything.)

The White River 4-Mile Classic was in trouble in 2000. As White River Water Carnival planners met in spring 2000, race organizers faced declining participation (33 runners in 1999) and the loss of the Batesville Jaycees as a sponsor.

Danny Mitchell of the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce didn't want the race to fade from the carnival weekend, so he turned to a group of local runners for help.

Soon, Mitchell, Dave Timko, Charles Barnett, Sam Cooke, Andy Buschmann and Joe Pool were hard at work building up the 4-Mile Classic. They got White River Pros on board as race sponsor, and their efforts nearly tripled the field, as 86 ran on Aug. 5, 2000.

But you know runners: They just kept going. Nearly two months later (Sept. 28), nine runners met at the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce to discuss forming a club. They heard a brief history of the 4-Mile Classic and a summary of how a club would help with such events, particularly with liability insurance, while also offering the obvious benefits of mutual support in pursuit of health and fitness. They kicked around ideas like fun runs, youth runs, directing races and assisting other organizations in putting on races — plus promoting exercise.

Of course, a club would have to have a name. Suggestions included Batesville River Runners, Batesville Running Club, Independence Running Club, White River Roadrunners, and Batesville Hilltoppers.

On Oct. 12, the White River Roadrunners club was officially formed, with 11 runners in attendance: Joe Pool, Kay Hermansen-Pool, Be Pham, Andy Buschmann, Sam Cooke, Ken McSpadden, Rick Franks, Dave Timko, Kelli Garner, Gary Hughes, and Christie Carpenter. They approved by-laws and elected officers: Joe Pool, president; Christie Carpenter, secretary/treasurer; and Sam Cooke, president elect.

They closed that first year with one more meeting Nov. 14, with 14 members planning for 2001 and settling on regular meetings for the third Tuesday of every month at the Citizens Bank Community Room.

The club has gotten bigger and busier year by year since those first saving steps.

In 2001 under Joe Pool, www.wrroadrunners.org went online and Ken McSpadden set up a club newsletter mailed to members. The club joined the national Road Runners Club of America for race and directors' liability insurance, the 4-Mile Classic course was certified and HealthSouth became the race sponsor. The Roadrunners helped Lyon College track coach Be Pham with his running program for kids. By year's end, 27 runners had become members.

Sam Cooke took the reins in 2002, adding the 1040 Tax Run 5k to the race slate and putting the HealthSouth 4-Mile Classic in the 2002 ARK Grand Prix race series. Membership grew to 35.

With Ken McSpadden in charge in 2003, the 4-Mile remained in the Grand Prix and the "Train for Four" program was introduced to help runners prepare. The club also supported the KARE program (Kids are Running Everywhere) newly begun at Newark Elementary School. Steady growth swelled the ranks to 41 heading into 2004.

YEAR-BY-YEAR PARTICIPATION
YEAR MEMBERS 4-MILE 1040 TAX SARA LOW
2000 19 86    
2001 27 96    
2002 35 117 32  
2003 41 107 30  
2004 48 146 28  
2005 55 150 64  
2006 68 169 112  
2007 87 214 69 158
2008 85 164 122 180
2009 96 274 144 231
2010 115 259 148 288
2011   220 123 320
2012 133 224 114 244

Steady progress has been the rule, under a collection of dedicated presidents and officers (see the list on our home page). Over the next several years, support for KARE and the "Train for Four" programs continued. New initiatives included support and leadership for local efforts in the Race for the Cure and the Women Run Arkansas clinic. The Sara Low Memorial 5K joined the club's official sponsored races in 2007, joining the 4-Mile in the Grand Prix series. Several club members won age group awards in the Grand Prix.

Younger members led by Nicole Driver started the "White River Roadrunners Youth Group" in 2009, and the club started its own race series that year with six local races. The local series grew to nine races in 2010, adding events in Melbourne and Heber Springs.

Membership kept rising, to 115 at the end of 2010. The continued progress comes in large part from a core group of volunteers and sponsors that we have built up over the years. They are always quick to step up with financial and resource support, enabling the club to reach out with information, support and guidance to other groups that put on local events over the years, such as the Penguin 5k/10k, Run Wild for a Child 5k, WRMC "Run the Wave" 5k.

The race series fell by the way in 2011, but support for the Women Can Run clinic continued, with some participants training year-round, joining the club and recruiting new members. Even without the local series, 2011 was a busy year as Davy Insell introduced the Boring As Crap Half Marathon/Half as Boring 10K and the 10th anniversary of 9/11 swelled field for the Sara Low Memorial to 320, with special finisher's medals for all.

Local racers did very well in the state Grand Prix, too, with Betsy Tucker finishing third overall, second in Masters (40 and older) by 1 point, and first in Grand Masters (50 and older), just one-tenth of a second from a sweep of the division! She broke state Grand Masters records in the 8K and 20K and was named the Arkansas Masters Runner of the Year. Brian Yeager earned Ironman status, running every Grand Prix race, including one he ran with a broken foot healing in a therapy boot! Now those are some Roadrunners right there!

In 2012, we revived the race series as Bruce Oakley volunteered to keep track of results from the nine races. Shannon Box and Crystal Cossey won the overall titles, with Linda Dale, Doris Lillard and Geary Paul as Iron Roadrunners finishing every race, and Catina Wood missing only the WRMC Run the Wave 5k to run the Women's Clinic 5K in Conway on the same day.

The club kept up its help of the Women's Clinic, with yearlong training for many — leading to first-time half marathons aplenty. Suzy Oakley ran her first half-marathon on behalf of the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America, earning top-five fundraiser status at the Lady Speed Stick Nashville Women's Half Marathon & 5K in September. Brian Yeager raised funds at the St. Jude Memphis Marathon in December, and other club connections ran or directed races for important causes. Those new fundraising races included Band on the Run 5K, Sprint for Seniors 5K, March of Dimes 5K and the Duck 'n Run 5K. The club also helped out with the inaugural Bad Boy Kids Triathlon for the Ozark Foothills Literacy Project in July.

Roadrunners president Davy Insell passed the baton to Dwayne Dickey with a healthy group of 69 individual and family memberships — 133 total members now in the ranks.

That rescue mission turned into a thriving community! Many thanks to all of you Roadrunners who make it happen. Beep beep!