Gazelle Girls: Why Roberta King Runs

In just about two months Grand Rapids will make history with the inaugural Gazelle Girl Half Marathon and 5k on April 13, 2013. The event marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the law that made discrimination between men’s and women’s educational programs illegal. Title IX had its largest impact by expanding female sports at the high school and collegiate level.

Training programs have been created for runners of all levels and can be downloaded at GazelleSports.com/gazellegirl. Runners looking for a training group can join Gazelle Sports’ 9-week 5k program. “Joining an organized training program is the perfect place to meet other women who are looking for support, and training for the same goal,” said Bonnie Nawara, Executive Director of Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW). “I’ve signed up for the 5k training program because it gives me the opportunity to take action on something I’ve been thinking about for a long time… running a 5k.”

Roberta King

Roberta King will run the half marathon. “Just after Title IX was enacted, my high school offered a girl’s track team. That was in 1977, and I’ve never stopped running.”

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Roberta’s Story:

The Starting Line – Roberta F.  King

I never saw the basketball coming. Hard bonk on the shoulder.

I ducked instead of catching the softball. Took it between the eyes.

A missed kickball rolled up my leg. Split my lip.

Balls and me, we don’t get along.

Just after Title IX was enacted, my high school offered a girl’s track team. I tried out for track because it wasn’t a ball sport and, unlike other sports at the school, I’d heard we’d be practicing with the boys’ track team. Bonus. There were six of us at tryouts and we all made the team. I was proud, regardless of the circumstance.

The motivation (other than the boys) was the coach — the handsome Mr. VerMerris. He was Mark Spitz with salt and pepper hair. “He’s dreamy,” I told my teammate Stacy. When the snow melted and we weren’t running the stairs and halls of the school, we went outside for sprinting practice. Mr. VerMerris would stand at the end of a field to the east of the school. All that stood between him and me (and thirty other runners) was a couple of hundred yards of uneven pricker-laden grass and packed sand. With his arms outstretched from his sides and a silver whistle between his perfect white teeth, he gave the signal and we raced toward him. I’d never run faster, my legs and arms pumping. I could hear my breathing and feel my heart thumping.

I didn’t reach Coach VerMerris first, but stopped directly in front of him, millimeters from a collision. I don’t recall what he said, but his blue eyes sparkled, and there was the reward.

That was 1977 and I’ve never stopped running since. I took up the sport seriously (that means running races) in 1986. I’ve run through every sort of weather – 90 degree September days in Miami and sub-zero windchill days along Lake Michigan’s shore. I’ve been splashed by cars in a sleet storm, gotten knocked off my feet in a wind gust, and slipped on ice, bloodying my knees. Always, when the going gets tough, I think of Mr. VerMerris and I kick it in.

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The community has been very receptive to the event with Amway, Foster Swift, Huntington Bank and Talsma Furniture joining Gazelle Sports and Nike as the founding presenting sponsors. Proceeds will benefit the YWCA, Girls on the Run and GROW.

Registration for the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon – limited to 2,000 women – is nearing capacity. There is no limit to the number of 5k participants.

Visit GazelleSports.com/gazellegirl for event details.

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