Yes We Can!

In the spirit of election week, we’re dedicating this column to the 6,000 runners who declared “Yes we can!” on the streets of Monterey and Pacific Grove this weekend during the Big Sur Half-Marathon events.

Some are well-known, such as KSBW anchor Erin Clark, who stated on the air that her main goal was simply to finish the 13.1 miles. Erin finished in 2:26. Some are celebrities within the local running community, like 67-year-old Hansi Rigney, who always wins her age group. She won by about 30 minutes in 1:47; but this year was mainly excited to see her husband Bob, who at age 75 ran his first half-marathon. Bob said “Yes we can” and finished 2nd in his age group.

Two friends of the Rigneys from Berlin, Hans Sherler and Kristina Otto, travelled all the way from Germany to participate in the race. They belong to a Berlin Running club named “Kilometerfresser” – literally, mile-eaters. They joined runners from every state and several foreign countries who visited here to run.

Shirley Smith from Salinas also ran her first half marathon (2:09). She has two young boys, and did all of her training while pushing her 2-year-old, Tallon, in a baby stroller. Tallon’s favorite comment is, “Faster Mommy, faster!” Shirley raced without the stroller but almost certainly with her son’s voice in her ear.

Veteran runners are used to saying “Yes we can,” and ran yesterday’s race with various hopes and expectations. For example, Carolyn Walter from Salinas ran on her 47th birthday, and her wish was to beat her brother, who was here from Southern California for the run. Carolyn ran 1:55, but lost to her brother, whom we’re sure she’ll beat next year.

Steve Souza is a local runner with loftier goals. He trained on his own for five years and consistently ran about 1:45 in the race. Earlier this year he joined the local Wednesday Night Laundry Runner’s club and has gotten considerably faster, clocking a sub 1:33 on Sunday.

Our favorite Yes We Can story concerns a strong young woman we first met in 2003. Celise Rogers was 28 and hadn’t run competitively since her college track days six years earlier. She trained for the Big Sur Marathon with us that year and completed her first marathon in 3:12 - she was the 4th overall woman, first Monterey County woman, and won her age group. Besides being a great runner, her energy and smile and enthusiasm are infectious.

Shortly thereafter, Celise and her husband moved to Sonora, and she put her running on hold to have a child. Her son Egan was born in 2004, very premature and weighed only 2 pounds at birth. Celise kept watch on her son who required hospitalization and home medical monitoring for a year.

Shortly thereafter, Celise was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had chemotherapy, surgeries, and treatment until February of this year, and is still taking medications in the aftermath. Today she is grateful simply for the opportunity to return to Monterey and run in another race.

We’re happy to report that Celise is now cancer-free, and her son is a happy and healthy 4-year-old. She ran yesterday’s race in an outstanding 1:44. It’s great to have her back, and she’s a perfect example of the power in saying “Yes we can” – in a footrace, or in any of life’s challenges.

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