Five years ago, the furthest thing on Melissa Williams’ mind was walking a 5K, let alone running the 3.1 mile distance. But when the 24-year-old, who has fought to overcome childhood obesity, completed the 5K race at the Redondo Beach Super Bowl 10K event on Sunday, it was merely one step toward a loftier goal she has set for 2010. But her quest is no ordinary New Year’s resolution.
“Growing up, I couldn’t run a mile to save my life,” said Williams, who grew up in Lotus, a small California town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. “In reality, I just ran my first mile three years ago.”
Overweight as a child, the bulk of Williams’ physical activity was from the neck up. She was taking college math classes at the age of 12 and graduated from MIT at the tender age of 20.
So it was easy for Williams to put 2 and 2 together when she learned about the correlation between obesity and diabetes while working as a pharmaceutical industry consultant.
“I realized that I needed to get healthier or I would have a future of diabetes, heart disease, stroke… the list went on and on,” Williams said. “With a lifetime of obesity and a family of diabetics, I was well on my way to becoming a diabetic myself, but healthy habits and weight loss could change that future.
Opting to take a year sabbatical Williams, accompanied her 57-year-old mother Kiriaki Williams, is in the second month of a journey in which the pair will walk 750 miles throughout California while enlightening others of the dangers of obesity and to encourage diabetes prevention.
“Don’t let my mom’s age fool you,” Melissa said. “She has enthusiastically walked every single step of the 110 miles so far and, I’m ashamed to admit, often with more enthusiasm than me.
“We split our time between walking days and school days. On walking days, we average roughly 10 miles. On school days, we spent all day with PE classes, working with individual classes so the students can interact and get their questions answered.
The CA Wellness Walk began January 9th in San Diego, will follow the coast line to Napa Valley before heading east where the trek is scheduled to conclude June 12 in Sacramento. Melissa will be stopping at over two dozen middle schools along the route where she hopes to reach 10,000 students by conducting classroom workshops that focus on prevention through education, encouraging healthy habits early to prevent the next generation of diabetics. She also plans to run in as many distance races as time permits.
Williams enjoyed her stay in Redondo Beach and was thrilled with her time of 44 minutes, 56.2 seconds. She completed her first 5K of the CA Wellness Walk with a time of 51:18.46 at the San Diego Resolution Run in January.
“I am still technically obese, currently weighing approximately 195 pounds, but I’m down from 210 at the start of the Walk,” Williams said. “I don’t have any specific weight loss goals, but I am trying to instead focus on a general shift toward healthier eating and exercise. More than anything, it’s been so exciting to feel the changes physically. My muscles are so much stronger. Running the 5K, I ran the first full mile straight (without walking) and my legs were so much stronger than they were at the 5K in January. It’s exciting.
“It was a real pleasure running in the Super Bowl 5K. The course was great and managed to have downhills whenever I needed them most. Plus the people were all fantastic. Everyone at the event — particularly the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce and Beach Cities Health District — has been amazingly supportive. After the race, I was going around with one of our Wellness Wall panels for people to sign, and everyone was so friendly. The Wellness Wall is the foam core wall that is growing as we go along with photos and writing from schools and events like this. In the end it will be 5.5′ tall by approximately 30′ long, and the panel from Sunday is full of well wishes from other runners!”
Williams said that the CA Wellness Walk could not be possible without the generosity of MIT alumni. “I shamelessly reached out to alums across California. We were very lucky to have the support of 70+ individuals and families hosting us for the majority of the 150 day walk. We’ve also had the support of CampingRoadTrip. CRT generously reached out to campsites across California and organized free accommodations for nearly a week of the Walk.” To follow Williams’ journey, visit cawellnesswalk.com
Mix of tradition, change
A year after being sworn in, President Barack Obama’s campaign theme of “Change” continued to resonate Sunday, although politics were the last thing on the minds of the nearly 10,000 participants and spectators at the Redondo Beach Super Bowl 10K last Sunday. The consensus wanted a new Super Bowl champion.
One couldn’t walk but a few yards through the Asahi Beer Garden adjacent to the Seaside Lagoon before hearing a yell of “Who Dat,” the iconic slogan of the New Orleans Saints.
While nuerous NFL teams were proudly represented at the running event, the NFC champion and underdog Saints were the popular choice to take home the Vince Lombardi Trophy given to the winning team of the NFL’s championship game.
“Gotta support the Who Dat nation,” Lomita resident Carter Saacke yelled in between swigs of his cold beer. He and his brother Skee were two of dozens of people who competed while donning costumes, keeping alive a tradition of the Redondo Beach Super Bowl 10K which was celebrating its 32nd year.
Hours after the inaugural Redondo Beach Super Bowl 10K was completed on January 21, 1979, Super Bowl XIII was played at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida where the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Dallas Cowboys 35–31 and Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw was named Super Bowl MVP.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was just two years old that day and his father, Archie, was coming off a season where he passed for more than 3,400 yards, earning the NFL Man of the Year award and his first trip to the Pro Bowl.
Sunday, Archie returned to Miami to watch his son Peyton compete in Super Bowl XLIV against the elder’s former team – the New Orleans Saints. To the delight of many, the Saints emerged victorious, winning 31-17 for the first Super Bowl title in the franchise’s 43-year history.
Twice the fun
After having separate winners last year’s 5K and 10K races, Sunday’s event was reminiscent of the previous four where the same man won both competitions.
Monder Rizki, of Belium, captured this year’s 5K title with a time of 15 minutes, 25.6 seconds. The Olympic hopeful returned to win the 10K with a mark of 31.05.1, besting last year’s winner Brian Livingston, of Los Angeles. Livingston clocked in at 31:16.01, ahead of Luis Ibarra, who matched his third-place finish of 2009 with a time of 31:40.4
Rizki, 30, has been training in Carlsbad and New Mexico and plans to return to Europe to compete in the European Championships.
“This was my first time running in this race,” Rizki said. “It was a nice course and Redondo Beach is a very nice city. It has helped me in my training.”
Joseph Eiluom, of Whitter, placed second in the 5K with a time of 15:37.2, ahead of Ruben Ramirez, who finished at 15:40.2.
In the women’s division, Karla Alburez, of Los Angeles, won the 5K race with a time of 18:02.4. Adrienne Schumm, of Beverly Hills, followed at 18:22.3, just ahead of Alexi Papas, of Alameda, who complete the 3.1-mile course in 18:45.2.
Kara June won the women’s 10K, finishing at 34:40.3 Redondo Beach running legend Nathalie Higley placed second at 36:10.3 and Tania Fischer, of Santa Monica, was third at 36:30.7.
June, who traveled from San Luis Obispo to compete in Sunday’s race, said she would enjoy returning to Redondo Beach in 2011 to defend her title.”
Each year’s event draws participants from across the country with a mixture of elite runners, weekend warriors and those who enjoy getting their workout in by walking the course.
Brittny Tacker, owner of Paciugo’s Gelato in Hermosa Beach, trains by running on the beach and looked forward to the Redondo Beach Super Bowl 10K before competing in a St. Patrick’s Day race in Seattle.
“The Super Bowl is a big-time run,” Tacker said prior to the race. “I’m hoping to finish under an hour.”
Tacker was joined by her fiancé Graham Burford who she said was a much more avid runner and more competitive, completing a half-marathon recently despite an ankle injury. Burford was running in his 3rd Redondo Beach Super Bowl 10K after moving from Australia four years ago.
“I love the race,” Burford said. “It’s such a fun atmosphere and a great group of people. My favorite race was two years ago when it rained. I love the rain and I knew that the people there were dedicated runners.”
Before the race Burford said the couple would probably run together for the first 1-2 miles. One hour and eight minutes after the starting gun, the couple crossed the finish line together keeping their run to the altar in September on track.
Unlike Burford, most runners were happy to see the clear skies Sunday which were sandwiched between rainstorms. Included in the fair-weather group were a clan of costumed runners who skipped the wet event in 2008 but celebrated their 6th official year dressed at Saturday Morning Cartoon Characters.
“We come back year after year because of just how much fun it is,” Brent Kuyendall, of Torrance, said of the group that has portrayed Super Heroes, Animals of Noah’s Ark and Super Bowl Party Condiments just to name a few.
“Our group changes in size and members but we always look forward to this event. Sometimes we come up with our theme during the previous year’s race but most of the time it is an inspired moment that comes to us sometime in the fall.
The group’s tradition of congregating at the beer garden at the conclusion of the 5K race is the second leg of what turns into a marathon.
“Super Bowl Sunday is a day long event where most of us hang out together (and sometimes in costume) the entire day,” Kuyendall said. “We usually try to make time for a nap (but not always) so we can last till the end of the festivities.”
Local men placing first in their age division in the 5K were John Combs (Palos Verdes Estates, 60-64, 20:11.0) and Frank Green (Hermosa Beach, 70-74, 25:47.5). Local female 5K competitors finishing tops in their age classes were Jackie Okada (Torrance, 35-39, 22:48.7), Debbie Cherry (Rolling Hills Estates, 55-59, 28:53.7) and Leslie Chapin (Rancho Palos Verdes, 70-74, 36:29.0).
In the 10K competition, local male runners finishing first in their age group were Brennan Megeff (Rancho Palos Verdes, 1-14, 40:18.6), Jacob Paulson (Palos Verdes, 15-18, 34:23.4), Stephen Kilroy (Redondo Beach, 19-24, 34:06.1), Jon Megeff (Rancho Palos Verdes, 45-49, 35:16.1), Rich Gust (Hermosa Beach, 50-54, 36:28.0), Anthony Mnuk (Torrance, 65-69, 47:44.0), Luis Gorordo (Redondo Beach, 70-74, 49:10.8) and Feliciano Recinos (Lawndale, 75-59, 53:11.7).
Female age division winners included Kylie Prentice (Redondo Beach, 1-14, 43:30.6), Kate Myers (Manhattan Beach, 30-34, 38:20.6), Nathalie Higley (Redondo Beach, 40-44, 36:10.3), Jenny Kusagaya (Torrance, 50-54, 41:35.5), Mary Elwell (Palos Verdes Estates, 65-69, 1:03:26.6) and Joy Bliss (Hawthorne, 70-74, 1:28:59.9).
Sharon Romessar, of Torrance, won the female division of the Baby Buggy 10K with a time of 47:19.5.
For complete race results, visit redondo10k.com. ER