(Written by Larry Meredith. Photos from previous Empire blog articles)
Sandi McGuire has announced that a memorial for her husband, Empire Runners Hall-of-Famer Mike McGuire, will take place at Daniel’s Chapel of the Roses, 1225 Sonoma Avenue, Santa Rosa on Sunday, August 5 at 1:00 p.m. The services will be followed by a gathering at the Friedman Event Center, 4676 Mayette Avenue, Santa Rosa.
While much of Mike’s running history can be found on the Hall of Fame page of the Empire Runners website, a perusal through club history reveals a long timeline of his contributions to our running community.
Mike McGuire began teaching at Herbert Slater Middle School in Santa Rosa in the early 1970s and when the local junior highs added the sport of cross country Mike became the very first coach for the Spartans. Mike was a very popular teacher at Slater for many years before taking over as Principal at Hidden Valley Elementary School where he finished his career.
Mike joined Empire Runners Club in the winter of 1979. He was first mentioned in club results soon after for his performance in the Chico Half-Marathon. “Mike McGuire was the first Empire Runner to finish; he was 78th of 581 finishers with a 1:24:10.” His enthusiasm for racing showed up regularly in ER results later that year. At the Labor Day Races held on the roads near Piner High School, Mike ran both the 2-mile (15th) and 10-mile (8th). Two weeks later he doubled again at an event called Around The Mountain, placing 3rd in the 2.35-mile warm-up and then 12th in the 5.6-miler that circled Fitch Mountain out of Healdsburg.
Apparently coaching and teaching left Mike with too much time on his hands because his involvement with the running club was about to snowball into some serious commitments. Within a year of joining, Mike became newsletter editor. A few months later he had one of the best races of his life, a 1:16:17 half-marathon in Sacramento that placed him 21st among 1080 finishers.
On November 16, 1980 the Empire Runners Club held the first McGuire’s Breakfast Run and Mike reported on the event he both directed and competed in:
“A brisk run or two before breakfast is the idea behind this 8:30 a.m. event. The weather was nice; the runners ready; and the neighbors quite surprised to see the street filled with 40 scantily-clad people. The potluck was enjoyable and many stayed to enjoy the warm and sunny afternoon.”
Mike finished 2nd to Jeff Parr in the 1.9-mile race and then took on the 5.6-miler, finishing 4th, just one second behind then-Analy HS coach John Anderson. Masters phenom Jim Bowers won the event by nearly a minute. Two weeks later Mike doubled in the Petaluma Turkey Trot, taking 2nd in the 2-mile and 4th in the 10-mile.
Empire Runners President Tom Crawford reported the minutes of the November 21, 1980 club meeting:
“The club held a general membership meeting at the Straw Hat Pizza Parlor on Farmers Lane. The meeting environment was very conducive to carrying out very important business. Between pizza orders being called out over a P.A. system, children playing the pinball machines, etc., etc. the following high level decisions were made:
MIKE MCGUIRE was elected Club President for a two-year term.
The club voted to allow merchant advertisement in the newsletter.
The club voted to buy 4 pitchers of beer and 1 pitcher of Coke to enhance the meeting.”
Mike had gone from new member to the club’s highest position in less than 2 years. It is interesting to read Tom’s final message to club members: “As Mike and Sandi take office they will need your help and consideration to meet an even more demanding, growing and changing membership.” A subtle reminder that spouses and significant others often serve by default and that Sandi and Mike were a team. That remained obvious throughout their lives together.
Mike continued to fill up his club resume when on January 10 of 1981 he hosted an Empire Runners Marathon Clinic to prepare for Chico’s Bidwell Classic Marathon. Mike listed the participation fee as “$31,874 with Mercedes; $2.00 without.”
Mike became involved in many races over the ensuing decades and, in recent years, took over the vital yet often thankless role of securing permits and insurance for our many club events. He performed this as he did all of his commitments: with dedication and precision.
Outside of teaching and running, Mike was a devoted husband, father and grandfather, was known to have enjoyed many a variety of beer, had a keen photographic eye and was an avid cyclist. He served as a board member for the Santa Rosa Cycling Club and, while in his 60s, Mike completed the famed Paris-Brest-Paris bike ride, a 1200-kilometer (746 miles) endurathon that must be completed in less than 90 hours.
When speaking with Mike he gave you his complete attention and would offer high praise for the smallest of achievements and offer sincere gratitude for anything you may have done to help him, the running club or the community. Mike made you feel important and worthy and that is certainly why so many of his past students and fellow club members have weighed in on social media with such emotion, admiration and, of course, heavy sadness at his passing.
On the first newsletter masthead that lists Mike as president his home address is on Aaron Drive in the Hidden Valley neighborhood. The very same neighborhood that last October was incinerated in the early hours of the horrific firestorm. Less than two months after the fires, for the 38th Annual McGuire’s Breakfast Run, Mike had us gather again at Hidden Valley Elementary School, spared from the flames by just a block or two, and we somberly toured the wasteland of ash and still-standing chimneys that he once called home.
Speaking to him about the tragic event one would never suspect that he had suffered any misfortune. Mike was as upbeat as ever, claiming that life was taking him on a new adventure and that he could finally stop fretting over all the junk stored in his house that he just refused to part ways with. Obviously he and Sandi lost much, much more but Mike was determined not to lose any sleep over things that were out of his control.
Just a few months before the fires Mike had been diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery to remove a tumor on his neck. His energy and enthusiasm for life never seemed to skip a beat as he described his condition and expressed only optimism about his future. We all wanted to believe that he would get through this. That Mike and Sandi would rebuild their house and their lives and the sparkle in his eyes would captivate us for years to come. By the spring of this year cancer was taking Mike apart, piece-by-piece, but as fellow Empire Runner Tori Meredith reported just days before he passed, the sparkle was still there. It will long be remembered.