Run to remember
June 1, 2010
It just wasn’t meant to be for Connor Gideon last weekend.
After trailing gold medalist Billy Demong in the Utah Olympic Park Hill Climb on Saturday, the lanky PCHS runner almost lost sight of Marcel Vifian when the former U.S. triathlon champion cruised to victory in Monday’s PCHS Memorial Day 5K.
"At one point on the biggest hill, I saw him up in front of me and thought, ‘This is kind of like Saturday,’" said Gideon, runner-up in both races less than a month after the junior landed sixth in Class 3A over 1600 meters.
This time, at least Gideon was waving goodbye to a professional runner – not a nordic combined athlete – when he entered the stadium just as Vifian was two thirds of the way around the track by the finish.
Although Vifian had not run since retiring from the professional triathlon circuit two years ago, he felt this year’s theme – lost loved ones – was particularly worthy in light of the recent deaths of friends and athletes Steve Larsen, Bill Corliss and Erica Knell.
Larsen was a professional mountain and road cyclist before becoming a triathlete. He died suddenly from a heart attack at age 39 last year, leaving behind a wife and five children. Corliss was a cycling enthusiast who specialized in electronics for Bell Sports, dying at 49 in an accident on S.R. 68 in 2006. Knell, an outstanding dancer, aerials skier and gymnast, passed away at just 17 after a car accident in 2008.
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Vifian thanked his police motorcycle escort for beeping a path through the course and allowing him to weave tangent angles through the turns while blazing to a winning time of 18:32.
"It’s a great little course," said Vifian, who now works as an athletic consultant after five seasons competing for the U.S. team at World Championships. "I’ll come back and do it again after the next year or two."
The women’s event was won by PCHS hurdles coach and erstwhile University of Utah sprinter Chelsea Shapard, who was happy to live up to her team’s weighty expectations while serving a greater purpose.
"I was really glad to be able to get it in," Shapard said. "I knew quite a few of the kids that passed away either personally or just because of us going to high school (together) – you kind of tend to know everyone. All those guys were around my age, so it’s a great thing to come out and do."
Shapard said she’ll take part in the Utah Summer Games this summer and then resume elite competition in 800 and 400-meter hurdles in 2011.
Last year’s inaugural 5K event was held in memory of the Park City 5 – a group of PCHS students who died at young ages in 2008 – but Monday’s race was opened up for the remembrance of any friends and family who left the world too soon.
Between 500 and 600 runners lined up for the start (down from about 1,000 last year), and all proceeds from the race benefitted the PCHS National Honor Society. The money will fund community scholarships for seniors needing financial aid and partial scholarships for students hoping to build a school in Bolivia this summer.
"If we could make this a tradition every year, it would fund so many projects and scholarships, like we’ve planned on doing with this event," said PCHS Spanish teacher and co-organizer George Murphy.
The course wound through Park Meadows loop, starting with a deceptively easy downhill portion before a long uphill finish that left serious runners panting heavily by the entrance to Dozier Field.
Participants purchased banners with photographs of their loved ones, lining the inside border of the track along the home stretch. Those honored included Knell, Lawrence Cowan, David Crook, Race Price, Ray Hunt, Brad Rogers, Chris Yeates, Keith D. Shipley, William Murphy, Matt Knoop, Figon and Aline Frechette, Michael Pennels, Norman Pennels, Lucy Jackson, Connie Blount, V. Ricky Nelson and Elise Minard.
Runners and walkers often stopped to touch a banner and share a moment on their way to the finish.
"Running into the stadium and seeing the people that we’re running for, it made it all worth it," Murphy said. "I think everybody knows somebody that’s dealt with something or lost somebody that they’ve loved. You can come and do this on Memorial Day and then go to the cemetery afterward – it’s a chance to come together and celebrate and appreciate their life."
Among many lives reflected upon was that of PCHS assistant baseball coach Keith Otirs, who died suddenly at age 23 during the spring season. More than half of the baseball team jogged the course wearing Otis’ No. 4, then waited patiently at the finish as coaches Terry Phillips and Andy Facey soaked in the sun at more of a strolling pace.
"The kids wanted to do it, so we followed them," Phillips said. "Nobody’s over it, but these things make it easier for everybody."
What might Otis, a dependable source of good humor, have thought of the team’s gesture?
"(Keith) is probably laughing his ass off, because we’re actually running in the morning," Phillips said.