Davenport, IA. – I am in the Quad Cities this weekend for the 43rd QC Times Bix 7 Road Race, this year doubling as the USATF 7 Mile Road Championship. I’ll have a preview later after today’s presser.
But as this sport of life and vigor looks ahead excitedly to the Bix 7 and the IAAF World Track & Field Championships in London next week, it also remembers once again a difficult anniversary week.
It was ten years ago that we lost the incomparable Mike Long, the former elite athlete coordinator for Elite Racing, founders of the Carlsbad 5000 and Rock ‘n’ Roll Series of marathons and half-marathons. Mike passed in his sleep at age 65 July 18, 2007 at his home in South Mission Beach San Diego.
Then, just two years ago on July 25th the sport was stunned to hear that long-time athlete manager Zane Branson had succumbed to a heart attack while attending some of his athletes in Iten, Kenya.
Both Mike and Zane represented the best this sport had to offer, passionate commitment in the service of others and an abiding love of the game of running. Former New York Road Runners president Mary Wittenberg (now CEO of Virgin Sports) flew to San Diego for Mike’s memorial service ten years ago, and jokingly encapsulated proof of Mike’s status as the most beloved man in the sport.
“We (NYRR) think we are pretty nice people,” she said, “but we have to pay $50,000 for an athlete Mike would get for free.”
Upon hearing of Mike’s passing the cream of Ethiopian running gathered in Addis Ababa to commiserate and cope with the news, forgoing their day’s training in the process. Many of them had come to San Diego and been hosted by Mike like they were family.
Zane’s passing at age 57, too, fostered an outpouring of love and reminiscences underscoring a life well-lived in the sport, first as a runner at East Tennessee State University, then as a manager to such Kenyan stars as Benson Masya, Jimmy Muindi, Wilson Chebet, Joyce Chepkirui, Emily Chebet, and Patrick Makau.
Athletics, like all sports, develops not just expressions of physical excellence, but reveals the frailties of the species even while fostering the qualities of character development and spiritual enrichment that undergird the expanse of life. It also draws to it a cadre of supporting characters who help uncover those qualities in the young people under their charge. Few have embodied those qualities of giving and support any better than Mike Long and Zane Branson. Long may their memories live and inspire.