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By BILLY SINGLETON
Daily News Staff Writer
On Saturday’s misty morning at Rotary Beach, 310 people set off running and walking in Ketchikan’s signature race of the year — the Ketchikan Running Club's Totem to Totem Half Marathon.
Take any group of that size, and you likely have a multitude of great stories and characters on your hands. That certainly holds true for the 310 people who accomplished something very difficult this weekend in one of the country’s most unique towns.
The Daily News spoke with a few of those people in order to share their stories.
Keegan Crow, 20, finished first. He crossed the race’s Totem Bight finish line with a time of 1:26:03. He said it’s the first race he’s ever won.
The night before the race, Crow worked a late shift, painting the State Ferry Tustumena at the Ketchikan Shipyard. He got off work at 2:30 a.m. But mild sleep deprivation didn’t seem to hold him back Saturday. That might have been thanks to a secret weapon — knowing that his stash of candy was waiting for him at the finish line.
“Airheads Xtreme Sour Belts were my motivation for the last four miles,” he said at the finish line. “... I have a package waiting for me.”
Right on Crow’s tail for the duration of the race was 14-year-old running prodigy Brent Capps. Capps, an eighth-grader at Schoenbar Middle School, took first place overall in the Prince of Wales Marathon last year.
Capps said Saturday that the run went great and that he was happy with his time.
“I love doing long-distance running,” he said. “... I think I’m going to be a great runner.”
The first woman to finish was Rachel Ferguson, a 22-year-old health services technician at U.S. Coast Guard Base Ketchikan. She finished with a time of 1:48:06.
Ferguson said she began in a group of three friends from the Coast Guard, but that she and friend Kerry Edgerton pulled ahead. Toward the end of the race, volunteers at a water station told her, to her surprise, that she was the first female to pass.
Ferguson attributed her success to smart pacing, especially given the course’s hills.
“I didn’t train as much this year, but just ran slower where I could and faster where I could,” she said.
Clint Schultz, a third-and-fourth-grade teacher at the Tongass School of Arts and Sciences, coaches the school’s marathon club. This year, 16 TSAS students participated in the race, with nine running the entire half-marathon. That number grows every year, he said.
“Once kids starting seeing that that was possible, they got excited,” Schultz said. “And then we had more kids that were like, ‘I want to do that.’ … That kind of motivation has just really kind of stirred within the kids.”
Schultz ran the half-marathon as well, and carried a 3-by-5-foot American flag with him. Schultz said the gesture was a symbol of appreciation for veterans. The flag was donated by U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan for a Veterans Day run, and had been previously raised over the White House.
Ketchikan-resident Melinda Rodgers ran the Totem to Totem for the seventh consecutive year on Saturday.
After her mother passed away in 2012, Rodgers decided to run that year’s race in her mother’s honor. Rodgers and a friend ran the full half-marathon in the pouring rain, despite never having run more than five miles at once, she said.
“Since then I run every year for her,” she said in an email. “... It is great to see all the people who come to the event. For some it is a great challenge, and for others just another gold star. For me it is a time of determination and self-reflection and a time to remember those that have gone before.”
Wayne Riley was born and raised in Ketchikan, but moved away in the late 1970s or early ‘80s. This year, Riley traveled from Meridian, Idaho to participate in the Totem to Totem for the first time, and to see his old hometown.
Riley said that running through Ketchikan made him realize that it was much smaller than it had seemed as a kid. He added that he enjoyed the opportunity to catch up on what has and hasn’t changed, and that he ran at a comfortable pace.
“I had fun,” Riley said. “I kept it at my happy pace. So, the idea is ... when you finish that you still have a smile on your face.”
Whitney Crittenden ran as part of a four-person relay — that allowed her to participate while keeping her time investment for training manageable. She said that turning such an individual activity into a team sport made it more fun, too.
“We’ve had a lot of fun trying to think up team names, especially having someone who’s pregnant as a part of our team.” she said. “… I think in the end we ended up on — it was either ‘Fifth Wheel’ or ‘One of Us is Pregnant.’”
Erica Steuerwald ran as part of a separate four-person relay team, but a fifth person joined in on her leg of the run as well — her one-year-old son Howard. She pushed him in a stroller.
“It wasn’t too bad.” Steuerwald said. “I’m not much of a runner, so running with a stroller, without a stroller, is pretty much the same for me.”
Becca Doyle is a teacher at Houghtaling Elementary School, who also coaches Girls on the Run and the Morning Marathoners club at the school — both of which prepared young runners for the Totem to Totem.
One particularly inspiring moment came when one of Doyle’s students, Sophielynda Agoney, applied a lesson from a story that Doyle had read for their class. The book, “A Long Walk to Water,” is about a young Sudanese refugee who walks to Ethiopia. The character manages the trip by breaking it into smaller goals, like “Just make it to that rock.” Sophielynda told Doyle that she applied the same technique to long-distance running.
“That’s why I like running — to teach them that they can do hard things,” Doyle said. “And when Sophie said that, I was so — I almost cried. I was so excited. She made the connection of the literature that I read, with ... how she could apply that literature in her life. … It was such a cool moment for me as a teacher.”
For Cary Tonne, the race was number 11 in his goal of running 50 half-marathons in 50 U.S. states. The Wisconsinite ran his first-ever half marathon in 2016, and said he hopes to finish out the remaining 39 in the next couple of years.
He added that he wouldn’t mind returning for a future Totem to Totem, just for fun. He said he enjoyed the race because of enthusiastic involvement from the community and from the race’s organizers.
“I’ve run a lot of different races so far, and this is one of a few races that I’ve raced that actually the community supports,” he said. “You can really tell that they care about it, and it comes through in the support you get as a runner. To me, that’s something that’s really important, and sets the race apart.”
In fact, appreciation for the race’s volunteers was a common sentiment among the many sources cited in this story. Several singled out Ketchikan Running Club Race Director Gretchen Klein in particular.
Klein said this year was the largest turnout in the race’s history, and seemed excited about the result.
“I was really happy with everything. It’s an undertaking, to say the least,” she said, laughing. “I just thank everybody around town for supporting it.”
Finishing times for the race’s participants will be published in an upcoming issue of the Daily News.