Letter from the President (April 2020)

Back a few years, just out of high school, friends and I would make the long trip to the Delaware beaches, as one of my friends had access to his parents’ trailer. This was years before MapQuest and Waze, so everyone had their own fastest route. For us it was the back roads through Chester County, and then south down routes 41 and 1. 

There’s a little town on this path called Avondale, and one night on the way back I was driving my mom’s powder blue Datsun 210. It was dark, and I remember I was driving without shoes on. Now these little towns on the route were notorious for speed traps, so you tried to pay attention. I may have peed my pants when not just one, but multiple police cars popped out with their lights emblazoned. As I scurried to put on shoes (because that must have been why they wanted me), an officer reached the driver’s side door. I’m ready with license and the best innocent look I can pull off as I roll down the window.  The officer’s gazillion watt flashlight nearly blinds me, and all I hear from the officer is, “Sorry, you can go.” I didn’t get the impression he was going to explain further, and I realized this wasn’t simply a speed trap. Something bigger was going on. 

Avondale is also home to a Catholic Church: Iglesia San Rocco. North America has about 2 dozen churches celebrating the works of Saint Rocco. He was born in Southern France around 1348 and died imprisoned by his own uncle before he turned 30. When his parents died, he gave away the family fortune and headed to Italy. News traveled slowly in those days, and Rocco arrived during an epidemic of plague.  It is there that his legend was born as he tended to the sick and saved the life of a Cardinal. 

Rocco himself eventually fell ill and was banished to the forest where, with help, he survived, carrying a scar on his leg the rest of his life.   

So, “Where’s this going?” you ask… Well, Rocco headed back home incognito after some time abroad, and his uncle imprisoned him for being a spy. Rocco, possibly to avoid fame or for whatever reason, never divulged his true identity and died in the prison.   

Hang on–we’re still going.

Fast-forward to 1918: while the world is in the grips of the Spanish Flu, the local bishop of Zamora defied the health authorities and ordered evening prayers on 9 consecutive days in honor of Saint Rocco. In the Catholic Church, this saint is honored as the protector against the plague and all contagious diseases, so it seemed reasonable to pray to him. The churchgoers lined up, kissing the saint’s relics, and Zamora goes on to record the highest flu-related death rate in Spain. To this day, on August 16, St. Rocco–the patron saint of dogs, invalids, the falsely accused, and bachelors–is still celebrated

So, there’s a little history, and it explains why in jest it was thrown around as a great name for a 50k to replace so many other races that were cancelled this month, including HAT 50K, which was canceled about 2 weeks before race day. Who would have thought the final race in the Shiver Series would be the last local race for our members and community?

Initially, with all the local runners training for spring events, it seemed reasonable someone could do something local respecting the guidelines of the CDC and still cover the distance. As the days passed, however, the news and threat became more ominous and any event seemed impractical.  

At some point in the future, there may be an organized group run replicating the 25 miles and twin peak series of trails that Brandon Bean banished himself to mark solo in the woods of Neversink and Mount Penn. Thankfully, unlike poor Rocco, his only scar was the temporary orange ribbon left for people to follow individually.

If you’re not aware, the Club has stopped holding the organized Wednesday Night Runs and the next Pacer Meeting for April 9th will also likely be canceled. The Charlie Horse Half Marathon and the Dirty Pony 5k for May 23rd are the first of the Pacer Club races that we’ve had to cancel.  Shaun Luther, as the Race Director, identified the likely impending situation and was able to minimize the financial loss that can occur when a race of that size is canceled. 

Our next race, Run for the Ages, is scheduled for June 28th, and we will need to adapt to the guidance of the CDC, the State, and the Nolde Forest Environmental Center as the date gets closer. 

When we are able to resume our general membership meetings, there we will need to discuss the real impact this virus will have on our local community, sponsors, and our charity partners, and how we can respond as a club.

Zach Barker, from Fleet Feet, set up a “Berks County Solo Runner” page on FB and I’ve seen many of our fellow runners posting runs (and, in some cases, PR accomplishments). Hats off to Zach and what he’s started. You see often in these FB posts runners admit they barely laced up the shoes and forced themselves to just minimal miles. Turns out, though, once going, they find an extra one or two or simply a pleasant moment that breaks up the emotional gray clouds. I hope our Club members remember our local shops and support them as they have supported us.

I don’t know when it will happen or how it will happen, but we’ll get out of this situation same as the world has done multiple times in the past. When that Officer said, “Sorry, you can go,” I understood there weren’t more questions for me to ask. I wasn’t priority–there was something bigger. And that’s where we’re at now, as we try to follow and respect those putting their life on the line.

Time to quit typing–got to go wash my hands ……. Steve

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