2017 Spirt of the Club Award Winners

The Spirit of the Club award has been developed to honor the Empire Runner recipient(s) who have given exemplary service and dedication to our club and the running community. The nominee’s efforts shall have a major impact on the success of the Empire Runners Club and further contribute to youth and/or adult athletic activities.

Photo above: Mike McGuire accepting the award for Bob Shor along with the other 2017 winners Val Sell and Larry Meredith.

Spirit of the Club Awardee Bios:

Larry Meredith

Larry was born and raised in a small town near Muncie, Indiana.

He had a rather normal childhood sharing the household with 2 sisters and a brother. He got his start in running as a middle school sprinter(didn’t we all) but when success wasn’t imminent he tried the mile. By the eighth grade he finished 5th in the county meet which led him to being a 4 year member of the XC and track teams at Wapahani HS. Larry finished Jr and Sr year as the County Mile Champion with a PR of 4:38 and his senior year XC team finished first as well. He matriculated to Purdue majoring in engineering but finished his studies in PE at Ball State. It was during his time at Ball State that Larry began coaching high school track and realized how much he enjoyed coaching and the kids. Larry continued his love of running college intramurals at Ball State which coincided with the running boom of the 70’s and then marathoning (running 3 in 1 year! 1979) with a best of 2:52.

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After a cross country bike trip to the western states and looking forward to being a PE teacher, Larry came to Sonoma County in 1981. PE teaching positions were few and far between so Larry took a position at OCLI and while checking on PE positions spied a notice for a Cross Country coaching position at Montgomery HS. In 1982 he got the job just days before the season opener, a first calling began. As a fledgling coach, unsure of himself and exactly how do get things done, Larry was touched by the sportsmanship and encouragement of Piner’s Jim Underhill. Larry coached for 18 years at MHS beginning with a second place league finish for boys in his inaugural season and winning league in only his second year. Highlights of his coaching career include but are not limited to: winning league for boys 5 straight years (12 total), 2 NBL titles for Girls, sending many individual boys and girls and boys and girls teams to the CIF State XC championships. Larry noted the girls program really took off when Tori became the girls coach. The boys best result was 7th overall at State. Larry’s XC coaching career culminated in 2000 with the Girls, led by Sara Bei and a precocious freshman, Kim Conley following their #1 NCS finish with a Division 3 State Championship. As head and co-head coach in track and field, Larry sent many individuals to the State championships over his 16 seasons again culminating in championship gold.

In 1987 Larry joined the Empire Runners, looking for a place to develop group training to better his personal running goals. He brought his coaching and training skills to the group as training director. He also quickly became involved in many aspects of the club, first as newsletter editor. He was instrumental in developing the Valley Ford Relays with Doug Courtemarche. He also started the high school support program during his 3 year presidency. He has been a major contributor and volunteer for a variety of races to the betterment of the club. As a racer he has produced many outstanding results individually and as an Empire Team Captain at such events as: Hood to Coast, Decelles Lake Tahoe circumnavigation, Xmas Relays, etc. One of his highlights was the 2008 trip for 23 Empire runners at the Boston Marathon. Finally he has grown the Empire Runner XC program (along with John Harmon) to the 60-80 annual participants we now have.

Larry has always loved the social aspect of the club and his competitive nature keeps him running in health and injury. His dream has always been to be an athletic “star” and as such has been driven to excel at every level of our sport to be the best he can be. To truly appreciate his impact you just needed to be at the 25th Annual Viking Opener when over a hundred of his former athletes descended on the Spring Lake course in the coaches race and raised the level of each race that followed. Following that, over 200 athletes and their families spent the rest of the day at Doyle Park sharing food, a beverage (or 2), stories, laughter and no end of tears. As a coach myself, it answered the question is the time spent worth it? As a fellow runner, teammate and friend is the time spent worth it? As an active volunteer in every aspect of our club’s production and improvement has that time been worth it? I know Larry would say a resounding YES… and I would too! – Brad Zanetti

Val Sell

November 1993. The young mother of four finally got a break for herself, and headed over to the SRJC track for a workout and a chance to clear her head. The track was crowded that day with a large group doing a speed workout. She caught up to them and asked what was going on. A nice woman, Pam Horton, answered that they were members of the Empire Runners club, and would she like to join them. And she joined in a big way. Her first real run with the club was a few weeks later, Thanksgiving Day, back in the day when that was a macho over-the-hill 12 miler, none of the “turkey trot in costumes” of today. She hadn’t run in Annadel before then and it showed. She fell twice, broke a toe, and didn’t return for several months.

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Thus began a special relationship of Val Sell with Empire Runners. She has become one of our most stalwart advocates, serving as club president, vice president and secretary at various times as well as race director for the Resolution Run for 15 years. Her greatest volunteer impact has been in the growth in popularity and efficiency of the Kenwood Footrace, our major fundraiser, that allows us to be fiscally solvent the rest of the year. With the help of countless others, her natural inclination has been to improve the race every year for the past 10 years, which now includes chip timing, instantaneous results for 1200+ runners, sponsorships and the festive 4th of July event that it has become today.

Despite Val’s formidable volunteer efforts for Empire Runners, her proudest accomplishments have come from coaching high school runners. Here’s how that came about: She was assistant coach to Danny Aldridge at Maria Carillo for the 2001-2 XC and track seasons. Larry and Tori Merideth had just retired from their storied stint at Montgomery HS, and Josh Dorris who took over for Larry was looking for an assistant with his intent of stepping down in a year. Val, not intimidated by the idea of taking on the program so quickly, jumped at the chance. She served as head XC and track coach for the next 12 years, until she turned over that job in 2015. The results in competitive success and social and emotional growth of her athletes are well known.

Val’s advice for would-be volunteers who think they don’t have enough knowledge: Just do it! Don’t be afraid. You don’t need to know everything about the sport to get involved. Everyone has a specialty that is useful, maybe a bit of nutrition advice, a secret way to tie a shoe, or just being good with numbers. Helping time a track workout, volunteer to run a race with newbie at Girls-on-the-Run. The time you spend is incredibly rewarding and will make a huge impact on kids’ lives.

Val’s coaching motto can be distilled to “Be your best no matter how good you are”. She hopes to instill in teens a life-long love of participation that will have a positive impact on their busy lives. She gets to know her athletes personally, and enjoys being a fly on the wall at practice and traveling to meets. Val feels that today’s over-scheduled and digitally connected kids need running now more than ever. The chance to be connected to your body, with a team and with a positive outcome is an important outlet and a chance to unwind.

One of Val’s greatest rewards is to see her countless former athletes continue to thrive and participate and compete long after high school. She vividly remembers sharing a hotel room in 2003 with one of her athletes on a Montgomery team trip to Hawaii. One evening this athlete shrieked as she plucked the first gray hair from Val’s head, followed by a ritual of flushing of the hair down the toilet. That memory is a bookend to the highlight of her coaching career as she witnessed that same athlete’s surreal finish at the 2012 Olympic Trials in Eugene, our local Olympian Kim Conley.

Some of us are convinced that Val is the energizer bunny or her world contains a different sort of clock. Besides coaching, she somehow finds time to raise chickens, design kitchens, grow copious amounts of vegetables, be a mom to a teenager and study French, all the while training well enough to have won the Empire Runners Grand Prix 10 years in a row. We acknowledge Val for her extraordinary efforts and success with our club and our sport. She is an easy selection for the inaugural class of Empire Runners’ Spirit of the Club. – Paul Berg

Bob Shor

Bob Shor has been a fixture in local, regional and national running events longer than many people can remember. His presence has been a positive and steadying influence for organizers, participants and spectators for more than 30 years. Track and field and cross-country participation and achievements have boomed during those years, partly due to the contributions of those like Bob.

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While in high school, Bob noticed the starting position of a runner while in the starting blocks. The poor position caused the sprinter to slow start. When Bob pointed out the faulty ‘set’ position, it was corrected and the runner quickly improved his performances. Bob saw that mechanics, self-discipline and dedication could pay great dividends.

In 1989-90 Bob and Doug Courtemarche became involved with the Santa Rosa Express, a youth running club, started in 1975 by John Gash from Rincon Valley Junior High. The program eventually moved to Santa Rosa High School where runners from eight years old through high school could compete in track and field events. The program offered a chance for young girls and boys to learn about running, training and the value of individual effort. Many stayed with the program for years. The Express was pretty equally divided between male and female athletes which gave team members an opportunity to appreciate a wide range of athletes in various events.

Bob likes the way youth sports builds character, the appreciation that winning is not the only goal of competing, and the ultimate value of individual effort. Athletes progress largely through time spent and self-motivation. Bob stressed that team members need to want to come to practice and put in the effort in order to get better. Fortunately these sports generally allow all interested participants to become part of a team. There is always an event for anyone willing to try.

Within and outside of Empire Runners, Bob is well known and highly respected as a race starter and general organizer. He makes certain procedures are followed so no complaints or challenges arise out of events he oversees. His count downs to race starts are clear and booming so everyone can move to the start in good order.

Like many volunteers, Bob started small with helping to set up the Kenwood race, then as local Pacific Association Cross Country chair for Youth. Events became bigger and travel farther as Bob’s reputation for skill became known. He has served for many years as a PA board member and continues to oversee many events. It is a comfort for runners to see Bob at the start or finish of an event, giving confidence the race will be properly conducted. Locally, Bob almost always attends Empire Runner club meetings and always has a positive productive comment or reaction about events under discussion.

Bob Shor is a worthy entrant into the inaugural class of Empire Runners’ Spirit of the Club.

Congratulations Bob! – Mike McGuire

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