It was a sunny day in Vancouver when, on April 22, four runners from Vanderhoof stood on the starting line on West Georgia for the 34th annual Vancouver Sun Run, a 10K road race that attracts runners from across the Province.
Claire Radcliffe made the run, coming in 8th in her age category of 60 to 64, and her training partner, Jennifer Little came in a while later to place 29th in her age category of 55 to 59.
And, as anyone who knows running in Vanderhoof might guess, the other two runners from Vanderhoof were Brian Nemethy and his son, Alexander (although Alexander is currently attending University on the lower mainland).
Brian Nemethy and his wife, Wanda, are at the heart of the running culture in Vanderhoof, and some may argue that they were instrumental in bringing running to town.
“When we first came to Vanderhoof 27 years ago it was pretty quiet on the running front. We would be out running and you very rarely saw another runner in town,” recalled Brian Nemethy.
But as both Brian and his wife were school teachers, Nemethy made it his goal to increase the awareness and popularity of the sport.
“There was a cross country team at the high school, but it wasn’t very popular and not viewed by most of the students as a real sport. Part of that was because they trained, but never raced anywhere,” he said.
He found a race in Prince George and recalled how, the first year, he had two high school students from Vanderhoof take part.
“After that, we kept promoting it, and the next year there were four…then eight…then 12…it kept growing,” said Nemethy.
Last year more than 40 students took part in the race.
One of the strategies Nemethy has employed is to do fundraising to purchase jackets and running shirts for the cross country team (they are offered to the students at a tiny fraction of the true cost), a perk that both inspires the students and gives them some “cred” when they attend races.
Another strategy Nemethy employs is to trot out some of the jackets and shirts he’s accumulated in his lifetime as a runner. These include a shirt from the very first Vancouver Marathon and other shirts from prestigious races like the Boston Marathon.
“The kids see these shirts and jackets and I have four binders full of ribbons and medals, and they get pretty pumped about the sport. They see that it’s more than a sport–it’s a lifestyle.
That same inspiring message has been imparted to the adults in the community.
In 1999 Nemethy founded the Vanderhoof Masters Running Club. (That name was later changed to the Vanderhoof Running Club to dispel any notions that only older people could join.)
“In the first year we had eight or nine people come out on Tuesday evenings for a run and most of them were guys. Now we regularly get more than 50 runners and the majority of them are female, not necessarily running to train for races, but simply to get and stay in shape,” said Nemethy.
“We train in a way that keeps the whole group together, with the lead runners constantly doubling back to the rear so that the group runs together and develops a sense of community.”
The sense of community is also something that the Nemethy’s built into the annual Wild Goose Chase.
“When we took it over, I guess 21 years ago, we changed the race to shorter distances and more prizes and really encouraged participation. We ran that race for 19 years before turning it over to Zöe (Dhillon) who has done just a fabulous job for the last two years. It’s so great to see so many people out now … many of whom have adopted a healthier,active lifestyle. I like to think that my wife and I played some small part in all that,” said Nemethy.