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Absent from Duty

David Yon, December 2018

I find memory to be a less reliable source for story telling every year. (Or maybe I just don’t remember how unreliable my memory used to be.)   Regardless, I don’t remember the last time I was not present for Ultra day in Wakulla Springs State Park, either to run one of the races or to volunteer. In 2013, after watching race directors and volunteers work so long and hard, I wrote: “The Tallahassee Ultra Distance Classic is GWTC’s finest moment.  It is far from the mainstream, as there are usually less than 100 runners.”  Despite the numbers, there is as much if not more effort put into this race as there is into the club’s biggest races – Turkey Trot and Springtime.  Since 2015, the races have been under the direction of Jay Silvanima and Nancy Stedman.  The duo took over the Ultra after many years of directing the Tallahassee Marathon.

In case your memory is no better than mine, The Tallahassee Ultra Distance Classic races usually start at 7:00 a.m. on the second Saturday of December. The last runner usually finishes only after a full day has gone by. For this Saturday that was 10 hours and 13 minutes after the start.  There is of course much to do before 7:00 a.m. and usually a bit of work left after the last finisher completes the last lap of the race.

The predominate distances over the years have been a 50-kilometer run (31.069 miles) and a 50- mile run.  There has also been an 80-kilometer race (1996), 100-kilometer race (1982-1992) and 100 miles (1985).   Interestingly, 2 people ran the 100 miler in 1985.  Ray Krolewicz finished in a time of 14:57:26, while Sandra Kiddy (age 49) ran 100 miles in 15:12:54, at the time a world best time for women. There are few stories of the race director at the time, Felton Wright, driving behind her with headlights on to make sure she was protected!

The course for all of the races from 1982 until 2010 always involved running loops around the inside of the Park.  The distance of the loops has varied over the years, but as best I can remember there have been loops as small as just over 2 miles (three loops equaled 10K) and as large as 3.4, maybe 3.5 miles.  If you are running 50 miles, just over 2 miles means 24 laps plus “a bit.” In 2010, Gary and Peg Griffin, with help from the park, created a 10K loop by taking the runners outside of the park on each loop.  It certainly is nice to run 10k for each loop, but it also made for a little less closeness. 
This year’s winners in the 50-mile run, Joel Rich (6:37:22) and Shana Ryberg Pearsons (7:32:59), were both from out of town (Gainesville, Florida and Aiken, South Carolina, respectively). Thomas Dever won the 50K, in a time of 3:39:50. The top woman was Darcy Brinkmann who finished 5th overall in a time of 4:59:58. Mr.Deaver by the way is listed as 61 years old and wahoping to break the US record in his age group.

2018 becomes another year of changes for the Ultra.  First, Jay and Nancy added a marathon distance to the race.  I am still not sure what I think of that. Twenty people finished it, so presumably they are happy.  I believe Jay and Nancy are favorable about the experience.  Elvis Maradzike was first person to finish, doing so in a time of in a time of 3:14:23.  Laura Reina was second overall and first woman as she finished in a time of 3:35:18.

Unfortunately, Nancy Stedman and Jay Silvanima also announced this, their 4th year, would be their last year directing the Ultra races.   After 4 years, plus many more years before that directing GWTC’s marathon, they are ready to step back and enjoy life without the pressure of directing a race.  They have more than earned it. Their tenure with the Ultra was very positive and they took great care of the event and left it stronger than when they received it.  Fortunately, Robin Bennet has stepped up to become the new commander is chief. I believe she will do a great job.

So just why did I miss this race this year?  Well, as most of this column’s readers know, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in the fall of 2012.  The doctor who diagnosed me and continues to treat me is Dr. Michael Okun. He is however more than just a doctor.  He is a doctor committed to making a difference above and beyond what he can do through his practice. Saturday was the 8th year for the Season of Hope Run to benefit the Tyler’s Hope Foundation.  Sometime in 2006, after numerous frustrating attempts by a variety of specialists at Shands Teaching Hospital and elsewhere, to diagnose the severe neurological problems Tyler was having, Dr. Okun made the diagnosis of Primary Generalized Early-Onset Dystonia.  

Dystonia is a neurological movement disorder affecting the central nervous system characterized by involuntary and often painful spasms of the muscles. This disorder currently has no cure and progressively robs a person of the ability to control voluntary movements and eventually even the ability to walk. At this point in time it remains untreatable.  Tyler’s sister is also symptomatic, and his brother has a 30% chance of following his siblings and becoming symptomatic as well based on the genetic link.

When I was diagnosed, Dr. Okun and staff all emphasized the need for exercise and when he found out running was my passion, he immediately invited me down to run the race his wife has turned into a major fund raiser for finding a cure for dystonia. It has taken me 6 years, primarily due to the conflict with the Ultra, to get there.  It was a great experience and a beautiful run on the Hawthorne trail in Gainesville. There were a lot people I recognized from the Movement Disorder Center supporting the event, doing their best to make something good happen in the fight against Dystonia.  I have great confidence they will not stop before they succeed.