By Budd Bailey
NEWS RUNNING COLUMNIST
John Chew has been involved in running for almost all of his life.
“I started when I was 13,” he said. “I competed until I was 71 or so. A couple of heart surgeries restricted me. I was not a very good runner at first. I actually ran better when I was in my 40s and 50s.”
Throw in some great work as a coach and administrator, and Chew is clearly someone who has made a large impact on the local running community in a variety of ways. Now, at the age of 78, he’s reached the ultimate destination for area runners – the Western New York Running Hall of Fame.
Chew is part of the third group of inductees. He is joined by Vicki Mitchell, Charlie Kern, Bernie Prabucki and Carl Roesch Sr.
Chew certainly has seen distance running evolve over the past 40 years or so, and the huge increase in participation by women probably is the biggest change.
“I hate to sound like the crotchety old people I listened to when I was younger. But when I arrived in Buffalo on a Greyhound bus, women weren’t even allowed to run,” he said. “There was no high school track for them, nothing. Nowadays, there are more women running than men.”
He said he’s also seen the sport of running change in terms of prizes. Back in the 1960s, runners would compete for a set of knives or a clock. Now, thousands of dollars are at stake in such races as today’s Buffalo Marathon.
Chew had moved into coaching even before he came to America in his late 30s.
“When I was in England with a running club, they decided I wasn’t worth a hoot as a runner,” he said. “The club sent me to a coaching seminar in 1960. I went and thoroughly enjoyed it. When I arrived in February of 1963 in America, the local newspaper in Lockport wrote an article that mentioned I was a certified coach. The next morning, there was a ring on my front door bell. The person at the door said, ‘Can I talk to you?’ ”
That person was a 17-year-old Russell Pate. He’s now Dr. Russell Pate of the University of South Carolina, one of the world’s experts on exercise science.
“I complained to him about that there was no running club in Lockport,” Chew remembered. “He said, ‘Why don’t you form one?’ That started it. … I’ve been coaching ever since.”
When he arrived in the United States, Chew carried along a European approach to coaching athletics. The other side of the ocean uses the club system, while American athletes are associated with high schools and colleges. Chew argues that clubs offer some advantages.
“You are coached starting at 13 or 14 with the club, and it carries right through your career,” he said. “In America, it’s hard for high school coaches, what with the short season and frequency of races. It’s not a long-term oriented program. Here, I’ve tried to do that. I’ve worked with athletes like David O’Keeffe and Jennifer Martin year-round.”
Chew later moved on to do work on the national and international levels. He coached several U.S. National teams at the world cross country championships.
“Those of us who are Americans by choice are more proud of such achievements than those who are born here,” Chew said. “When I first received a phone call that told me I was selected to coach a junior cross country team in Paris, I thought the guy was pulling a prank on me. There’s still nothing more important in my wardrobe than my first USA sweatsuit.”
One of Chew’s biggest achievements was putting Buffalo on a national stage. He was part of the group that helped Buffalo land the Olympic men’s marathon trials in 1980 and 1984.
“A lot of people did a tremendous job,” Chew said about those events. “We did a better job in '84 than in 1980. It was the highlight of my time, but I wouldn’t want to do it again.”
The other members of the Class of 2013 have contributed to the running community in a variety of ways:
• Mitchell: A seven-time All-American runner at Cortland State, she competed at Olympic trials and for national teams. Mitchell has won the Turkey Trot eight times, and has been a coach at the University at Buffalo for 14 years.
• Kern: He was a nine-time all-state selection while running for Sweet Home High School, and was a five-time All-SEC selection at Kentucky. Kern has been a nine-time USA Masters age-group champion and has been a coach for many years.
• Prabucki: He’s a Hall of Famer at Fredonia State, winning a national championship among Division III schools in the 5,000 meters in 1982. Prabucki won the Skylon Marathon in 1983 in 2 hours, 21 minutes, 29 seconds.
• Roesch: He’s best known as the track and cross country coach at Canisius College from 1948 to 1974. But he coached several USA track teams that competed overseas, and was himself an accomplished middle-distance runner.
The five nominees will be formally inducted at the annual 5-kilometer race in Buffalo, which will be held on Aug. 30.
• Buffalo Marathon and Half-Marathon, Pearl Street, 7 a.m. today, 694-5154.
• The Gay 5K, 64 W. Chippewa St., 6:30 p.m. Thursday, 847-0212, ext. 3316.
• Alden’s 5K Race for Scholarships, 13190 Park St., Alden, 6:30 p.m. Friday, 937-9116.
• Brian Dugan Memorial Scholarship 5K Road Race, 1200 Park Blvd., Tonawanda, 6:30 p.m. Friday.
• Woods Walk and Trail Run, 10 miles/10K/5K, 1420 Yubadam Road, Portville, 8 a.m. Saturday, 933-0187.
• Finn McCool 4 Mile Odyssey (trail/obstacle), 6902 Mill Valley Road, East Otto, 9 a.m. Saturday, 830-6703.
• Run the ‘Burg for Autism, 5K, 4236 Clark St., Hamburg, 11 a.m. Saturday, 572-3613.
• Salmon Run, 5K, 57 Harbor St., Wilson, 5 p.m. Saturday, 751-6120.
• Derby Snap Fitness 5K Run, 6950 Erie Road, Derby, 9 a.m. on June 2, 947-9010.
• Juneteenth Run for Health, 5K & 10K, 585 William St., 9:30 a.m. on June 2, 830-6560.
• Girls on the Run 5K, University at Buffalo’s Amherst campus, 9:30 a.m. on June 2, 645-6815.
• Tim Oehmler 5K for Kidneys, Delaware Park, 10 a.m. on June 2, 510-6702.