Many thanks to Karsten Brown for finding this 2002 article from Ray Gordon, club founder, about SVR’s history.
[At the SVR Banquet on March 17th, 2002, 83-year-old Ray Gordon gave a talk on the founding of the Shenandoah Valley Runners & the early parts of the club’s 25-year history. Unfortunately we didn’t have a public address system set up until halfway through Ray’s speech, so a lot of people didn’t hear what he had to say. Thus, we’ve cobbled together this article! It merges parts of Ray’s talk with excerpts from a letter he sent to Karsten Brown a couple years back. Hopefully we’ve done the story justice.]
Maud and I moved from the Washington, DC area to Front Royal in March 1974. I’d been a runner most of my life, competing through college and through twelve years in the military. I resumed competitive running in 1964, at the age of 46, after a layoff of almost twenty years. The DC Road Runners Club had started scheduling races regularly in about 1962. Even in DC it was a big turnout in ’64 if a dozen to twenty runners showed up at a race. This changed in 1972, however, after Frank Shorter won the Olympic marathon in Munich. From that point on, interest in running blossomed, and races were attracting hundreds of participants within a couple years. Also in ’72 I founded the Potomac Valley Seniors Track Club, which is still a viable competitive club in DC– now open to runners (and racewalkers) of all ages.
Coming out here to the Shenandoah Valley presented me with a problem. At that time I had been running races at least once a week for a decade, and I didn’t want to give that up because it had some very obvious benefits for me. So during the first three years we were out here, I went back to DC for races. Or I would drive up to Hagerstown, MD to run with the Hagerstown Run for Fun Club, and later to Frederick to run with the Frederick Steeplechasers. Or I would run in the weekly summer track meets put on by Rusty McDonald at James Wood High School in Winchester. I did all these and learned of other runners here in the Shenandoah Valley.
I pursued with a group of these runners the idea of starting a club to sponsor year-round races. This was a very small group– no more than six or eight. There was agreement, and we formed the SVR at a meeting at my home in late 1976. I had about three names that I had proposed for the club; some of the proposed names had the words “Blue Ridge” in them. “Shenandoah Valley Runners” was the one that won out. Incidentally, the word “club” is not in the title “Shenandoah Valley Runners”.
We decided on a logo, similar to the one used today. The winged foot in the logo belongs to the Greek god Hermes, the messenger of the gods. I though that was particularly appropriate, because old Phidippides ran the first marathon after the Greeks defeated the Persians on the plains of Marathon north of Athens. Hermes’ foot is superimposed on an apple, since apples are grown at many orchards here in the valley.
What we planned to do was to schedule a race every two weeks, and we built our schedule around some of the existing races that were held elsewhere in the area. Our first scheduled race was at Randolph-Macon Academy in Front Royal on the first weekend in January 1977. This race was covered by Running Times a month or so later. (I gave my only copy to Nancy Specht in 1997 when the club had been in existence for twenty years.) The race was run in an eight-inch snow cover– as a cross-country race. I can’t remember how many entries we had (less than a dozen, I’d guess). We also had a half-mile race for kids on the track before the main 3.5 mile race. 7-year-old Tony Walker of Strasburg won the first SVR race ever, covering the half mile in 4:27. Front Royal resident Dennis Driscoll won the 3.5 miler in a little under 24 minutes. There were no females in the race, nor were there any women in the club for several months.
Some of the people who were originally in the club were the Hodson brothers, Jim and Dick… Doug Walker… Mike McKiernan, who is now a teacher and coach at Handley High School… Larry Barbour… Bob Peake… Rip Flick… Russ Chew… Marty Dietz… Randy Wingfield… and Gilbert Stickel, who was killed in a tragic accident a number of years ago.
The club limped along in the early days. Most of our races were almost extemporaneous affairs. We had them at Jim Barnett Park, at Clearbrook Park, and at Sherando Park. We put on a number of summer races at Sherando, almost amounting to a series. Most of them were very short– maybe two miles in duration. My wife was getting fed up with the number of awards I had around the house, so one day she added up about fifty of them and said, “Why don’t we give these out as awards?” She took the plates off and had new plates made. I remember what Mike McKiernan (then a teenager) said to me when he turned over one of these awards: “Mr. Gordon, you must’ve run this race before I was born!”
So the founding of the SVR was based on a somewhat selfish motive– my desire to have races closer to home. But this was offset by the fact that Maud and I did most of the work concerned with the club: we measured courses, put on races, produced a newsletter, etc. I can still remember our cranky mimeograph machine and my hands stained purple from the fluid. I served as SVR president for the first several years until I conned Jim Hodson into taking the job. We got the club off the ground, got it flying, and guided it through its course until we got some movers and shakers in the club– people like Nancy Specht, Kathy Smart, the Riemenschneiders, and Jean Bauserman. Once these newer people got involved, the club began to grow significantly into the 1980s.