A 21-year-old Colorado native traveled eight hours to reach Pine Bluff for the CASA (Committee Against Spouse Abuse) half-marathon Saturday and walked away with the top prize in the men’s division.
Hunter Stayton, a student at Kansas Wesleyan University in Salina, Kansas took first place with a time of 1:16;20, while his team mates, Jason Berry, 20, of Crestwood, Ky., and Chase Wiedel, 22, of Salina finished second and third.
“It was a nice course and there was great weather,” said Stayton, a computer science major at Kansas Wesleyan, “and the police officers did a great job of controlling traffic.”
Leah “Zoey” Thorvilson, 33, of Little Rock finished fourth overall and won the women’s division for the second straight year. Tracy Tungac, 30, of Bryant was second and Ashley Chan, 27, of Fairbanks, La., finished third respectively.
Now in its second year, the 13.1 mile course is certified by the United States Amateur Track Federation, which means that runners’ finishing times can be used to qualify for other races, or reach the “Half Fanatic” status, which means that the runner has done a certain number of half marathons in a certain period of time.
Brent Bailey, the track and cross country coach at Kansas Wesleyan, said he was looking for a “fast course” for his team, and whatever he found would have to fit in with the team’s off weekend, which was this weekend. He also wanted to find a race that he could bring the team to that would involve no more than about eight hours of traveling.
He said he got on the Internet and started looking for a race that would fit the conditions his team needed, and after talking to race director Joey Gieringer, who is also the vice-president of the CASA Board, decided to make the trip to Pine Bluff.
“The coach said he wanted a course that was flat, fast and certified and I told him we’ve got all of those,” Gieringer said.
The course started on McFadden Road next to the Torii Hunter Baseball and Softball complex, then through the campus of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff on L.A. “Prexy” Davis Drive to Pullen Street where it turned east through Saracen Landing to the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Regional Park, through the park, then back on Pullen Street to the campus, finally circling Golden Lion Stadium and finishing on the parking lot of the stadium.
“The times were not as fast as I wanted and I don’t know if that was training, or the course, or the weather,” said Bailey, who rode a bicycle alongside his runners during the race. “I wasn’t a bad course so it was probably the training.”
After lunch, the team returned to Kansas where Bailey said they will be preparing for an indoor meet at the University of Kansas Jan. 5.
Thorvilson, 33, finishing with a time of 1:23:03 to take the women’s division crown.
“The weather was a lot better this year,” said Thorvilson, who is an Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier. “Last year it was windy and cold.
“This year I’m coming off an injury, just like I was last year so my time was not as fast as it should have been but I felt like I needed the adrenaline rush to get back into shape,” she said.
The top three runners in both the men’s and women’s divisions received hand blown glass bowls designed and created especially for the race by James Hayes of Hayes Art Glass of Pine Bluff.
“I guess I’m going to start a collection of them,” Thorvilson said.
Last year’s winner of the men’s division of the half-marathon, Joel “Natty Dreadz” Perez, 34, of Little Rock finished fourth in the men’s division and fifth overall.
After having 71 participants in its first year, the CASA half-marathon had more than 220 sign up this year, with people coming from 11 states, as well as from all over Arkansas to participate in the event.
“I’m really excited about the turn-out this year and hope all the runners have a great experience,” Gieringer said. “This is all about helping CASA, making new friends, and enjoying a healthier lifestyle.”
The race was projected to raise $7,000 to $8,000 which will go to operating expenses for the women’s shelter which opened earlier this year in a new location on State Street after a major capital campaign raised more than $700,000 from local donations to go along with assistance from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation.
Donors for the race included Pine Bluff National Bank, Simmons First National Bank, Jefferson Regional Medical Center, Pine Bluff Sand and Gravel, Central Moloney, Smart Automotive, Trotter Ford, Strong Manufacturing, Beth Marris, Bill and Julie Bridgforth and Amy Boast Cahill.
To make the race more of an event, organizers this year added a 5K and kiddie race, as well as a pancake breakfast for participants and volunteers hosted by CASA.
Bryan Manley, 19, a Colorado native who is also a student at Kansas Wesleyan University took first-place in the men’s division of the 5K.
“I’m coming off an injury so I decided to run the 5K instead of the half-marathon,” said Manley, a Business Management major at the school.
Carolyn Monk, 53, of White Hall won the women’s division of the 5K.
Gieringer said the race would not have been possible without a large number of volunteers, particularly members of the Pine Bluff Running Club and their families, volunteers from several businesses and organizations that manned four aid stations on the course, including Pine Bluff National Bank, Simmons First National Bank, Central Moloney, Watson Chapel Key Club, Kiwanis Club, Arkansas Clean and Beautiful, Nu Delta Fraternity, St. Joseph Catholic School and Sophisticated Gentlemen, Inc., as well as from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
Pine Bluff Police officers led the race and provided traffic control, as did members of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department and University Police. A sheriff’s deputy was also assigned to patrol the more remote areas of Regional Park to check on runners and assist if a runner got into trouble.
The Sheriff’s Clean Team, supervised by deputies, set up the tables and coolers at each aid station, then stayed after the race to clean up the parking lot of Golden Lion Stadium, and the Pine Bluff Festival Association turned on the lights at the Enchanted Land of Lights and Legends displays at Regional Park during the race.
The third annual CASA marathon has been set for Dec. 14, 2013, also starting at Golden Lion Stadium.
A complete list of runners and their times in the CASA half-marathon can be found at www.macsrts.com