Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rest in Peace Robert and Linda Mathis

The always-smiling Robert and I at the Grand Prix awards ceremony in 2009

2012 started with the shocking news that series race directors Robert and Linda Mathis were struck and killed by a DUI driver on Highway 28 in Incline Village (full story in the Tahoe Bonanza). The Northern California ultrarunning community was left speechless.

Linda (right), Robert (left) and I at the finish line of the River City Marathon in 2009

Today, all the runners who knew Robert and Linda were invited to a Memorial Group Run in their honor, organized graciously by Aaron Summerhays and Jennifer Lee Dicus.

Aaron Summerhays and Jennifer Dicus organized the wonderful memorial run today

Since I have not been running any ultra races lately, it was great to see so many of my running friends again. I had not seen many runners for over a year and it was good to catch up with Gretchen, Ray, Catherine, Ed Walsh, Jethro Smith, Matt Thau, Bev and Alan Abbs, Norm and Helen Klein, and many others.

Runners gather at the start of the Memorial Run

Just before 9 a.m. Aaron made some announcements, we had a minute of silence, and several of the runners shared some of their memories of Robert and Linda with the group.

Aaron Summerhays

Robert and Linda's family

Quite a few of Robert and Linda's family members had come out. They wore orange t-shirts from Robert and Linda's favorite race, the Disney Marathon. That was a race they lived for. Robert was one of only 158 runners (out of 17,000) to have the "Perfectly Goofy" classification, finishing every single Goofy challenge since the race started in 2006 (The Goofy challenge consists of running a half-marathon on Saturday, then the full marathon on Sunday). Robert and Linda were about to go to Florida to run it again when they were tragically killed. They even hosted the very popular Disney Running site.

Two beautiful sets of (biodegradable) balloons are released at the start of the race

It is still hard to believe they are no longer with us. Over the years, it has been a great pleasure to get to know Robert and Linda. There are very few race directors that consistently put on such a large number of high-quality ultrarunning events.

Gretchen, Catherine, and Ray

One of Robert and Linda's aid station organizers, Brad McGrew, talks about how it was to work with them

Frequent grand prix race runner, Ron Peck, thanks Robert and Linda

Norm Klein talks about Robert and Linda's top-notch race directing and volunteering

Heading out on the trail

We decided to walk and run the Memorial Run with the whole family. It started in Auburn and followed the Western States trail down to No Hands bridge, on the trails where a lot of the ultrarunner races were held. It was a gorgeous day to be out and about.

Runners enjoy the beautiful day

Robert and Linda inconspicuously created a stage for all of us to grow both physically and emotionally, to develop great friendships, to test and continuously improve ourselves. They were always there, taking care of us with a smile, a stopwatch, and a finish-line meal.

Sean, Rocky, and Vicky walking up the Western States trail

Norm Klein said, "unless you have been a race director, you have no idea about how much work it really is to pull these events off."I had promised to bring some refreshments to the Memorial Run and just putting together the coolers, buying water, bags of ice, some snacks, and Gatorade for the pot-luck style barbecue gave me a better understanding of what is involved in putting a race together and a deeper respect for Robert and Linda.

With Gretchen at the finish line

As a runner, it is easy to show up at a race while caught up in your time and your splits. By the way, all of those people who always ask "what do you think about on those long runs?" have probably not run any grand prix races—the point calculations can more than keep you busy out there! With Robert and Linda's races there simply was nothing else to worry about; their races ran like well-oiled machines and it is only when you hear of other races that are having all kinds of trouble that you realize how well they were prepared.

Ed Walsh powers over No Hands Bridge

We hiked the first part of the trail and without a clock ticking at the finish line we had a little more time to stop and look around. We were treated to a rare, up-close view of a bald eagle taking off out of the canyon and flying towards Auburn. A magnificent and comforting sight.

On eagle's wings

The trails brought back many memories. One of these flashbacks was the Gold Country 20-Miler, which was run on the same exact trail. In that race I had an added incentive to race hard: I had to catch a plane to Europe an hour and a half or so after my estimated finish time. It's amazing what one will do to gather ultrarunner grand prix points!

Matt Thau and his girlfriend on their way back

Of course, No Hands Bridge in particular brought back many memories of the exciting grand prix series in 2007. Scott Dunlap took a wrong turn at the bridge's aid station, causing him to lose some valuable points.

It then became such a close race that it wasn't decided until the very last race in the series (in the end the difference was only 1.5 points out of a 282 point total). We'll forever cherish our many memories from these races. Unfortunately Scott could not make it today, but he created a beautiful memorial site close to where the accident happened in Incline Village.

Rocky at No Hands Bridge

Robert and Linda's accident made me think off the Greek myth about Baucis and Philemon. Baucis and Philemon were a couple known for their hospitality—very much like Robert and Linda who would always accommodate everybody who wanted to come and run their races. In the Greek myth, Zeus visited their town in disguise and they were the only ones that welcomed him into their home. For their "guest friendship," Zeus granted them a wish and they requested to stay together forever and that when it came time for one of them to die, the other would die as well. It is hard to come to grips with this terrible accident, but in a way it helps knowing that they were and will continue on together, like the balloons and the eagle we saw soaring into the sky this morning. Robert and Linda, rest in peace dear friends.

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