Holding up half the big sky

In deference to those who made the original reference to “women holding up half the sky,”  I’m borrowing the phrase simply because I love the sound of it, as it aptly describes statistics showing  women are usually more than half the participants in any given road race.  Consider the most recent available statistics which report that in 2013, 2014 and 2015 women constituted 57% of running events each year, according to Running USA.

I recently traveled to participate in the Montana Women’s Run, as their keynote speaker at the pre-race dinner, and to participate in the 5-mile walk.   I really enjoyed walking among 8000 runners and walkers!  I was simply amazed at the level of participation.  8000 participants and probably 99% of them are women.   After all, it is not a women-only race, keep in mind.

So when I look into statistics kept by Running USA, I cannot really compare the Montana event to the largest all-women’s races.  However if I did, it would fit right in to the top four, between the NY Mini-Marathon (10K) at 8846 and the More/Shape Women’s Half Marathon at 7046.   As for coed races, it wouldn’t seem fair to compare it to the top contender Nike Women’s Half-Marathon either, which totals a whopping 25,100 participants.

What the Montana Women’s Run does perfectly is to support, encourage and inspire as many women as they possibly can to empower participation, be it walking or running, whether it’s two-miles or five-miles.   Their mission is to promote health and fitness, particularly for women who might not otherwise exercise.    Additionally, the organization offers clinics to help women get started in their workouts.  Plus the proceeds benefit local service providers for women.

Mayor Tom Hanley and Robin Hanley

The Women’s Run Board members consist of all women, and of the ones I met, each seems to carry their own unique story of inspiration.  All of them are highly accomplished women who motivate others by example.
I only regret not having the opportunity to meet their longtime leader, Pat Jaffray, who passed away just the month before, and who was honored throughout the entire event.  To read more:

http://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/montana/onward-and-forward-longtime-organizer-participant-pat-jaffray-memorialized-at/article_f13073c9-9c33-583e-b50c-229b8f4b13af.html

Here is the pre-race interview conducted pre-race at station KTVQ”

http://www.ktvq.com/category/302233/montana-this-morning

 

Liana Susott and Family, post-race

How I came to be introduced to the Women’s Run, is entirely thanks to Coach Jay Graves, who I met in the summer of 2016 in Casper, Wyoming while coaching a World Record Track & Field Camp with founder, director Willie Banks.  Jay not only attended camp so his children could participate, and so he could grow as a coach, he also volunteered to be my assistant coach!  I am forever grateful to him for introducing me to his sister Liana Susott, a Board member of the Montana Women’s Run, who in turn brought me to the attention of her fellow Board members.  I am ever so appreciative they included me in their program.  I had an awesome experience, not only during the events, but hiking and enjoying the beauty of big sky country . . . . . . . . . It turns out women are holding up half the big sky.

 

Jay Graves and Family, Billings, MT

Liana and I hiking

 

Charleston 15-mi. race 1973 Tom is out front and centered (#326) I am #101

Jacqueline with Tom Fleming, Charleston 1973

 

TOM FLEMING

By Jacqueline Hansen

 

When I think of Tom Fleming, what comes to mind is a fierce competitor, a kind and generous soul, a man who lived a determined life, a purposeful life and an exemplary life.

When we lose a loved one we soothe the pain in our heart with fond memories.  Memories can bring comfort and peace.

Tom and I shared some good memories.

He loved the Boston Marathon as much as I do.

In my mind, Boston and Tom are intertwined.  I cannot tell you how many times he ran there, but there were a lot of trophies in his collection, including two second place Boston trophies.

Tom was a fierce competitor, often a front-runner who liked to take charge.

He was at the same time a kind and generous soul.

One time, at the Olympic Trials for the Marathon in Eugene in 1976, he came up short – by his own high standards – and missed making the Olympic Team.

I will always remember him sobbing on my shoulder.  His dream and all the training he put into the 4 years between Olympic Games was not to be.  It tugged at my heartstrings.

We competed together all over the map:  Boston, Eugene, Charleston, Los Angeles, Puerto Rico, to name a few.

Puerto Rico makes me smile.  I said he was generous.  He even shared his room suite with the rest of the USA team, including Bill Rodgers and me too, because he had the only one with working air conditioning in that hot, humid, sweltering climate.

In Los Angeles, Tom ran straight into history, leading the charge over an arduous course, which ran the length of famous Sunset Boulevard from downtown to the Pacific Coast beaches.  It was the first race in LA and among the first anywhere to offer prize money. This was a radical act of the times and Tom raised the bar.

I’ll close with a lasting memory I’ll carry in my heart forever.

At the Cleveland Marathon, we won together.  But the mayor of Cleveland (Dennis Kucinich) was ill-informed and brought just one key to the city at the awards ceremony.  Since Tom was traveling home the same day and I was staying one more day, I suggested he take the key, since I could receive mine the next day.

Nearly forty years later, I would still be waiting for my key, despite the good intentions of a reporter who put the story out into the news on one of Cleveland Marathon’s anniversaries.

Well, Tom learned of the story and resolved the situation in his own generous way.

He sent it to me recently, saying after all this time, it was my turn to keep it for the next 30+ years.  The key to my heart.

What a gentleman.

What a competitor.

What a team player.

What a friend.

I will miss him, but I have a cherished key and a treasure trove of memories.

Listen to Tom’s Memorial Service

 
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