PaceSetters Celebrate 25 Years in 2009
The Early Years
The PaceSetters were founded in 1984 by a handful of runners, who were originally interested in simply reaching out to other runners in the region. At the time, running clubs were at a premium in the area. “You had the Badgerland Striders down in Milwaukee and the Fond du Lac Running Club,” says Jim Schmidt, who joined the Board in 1985 as treasurer and later served as president for two years. “But there were no running clubs in Green Bay or the Fox Valley at that time.”
There were races around in the mid 1980s, the largest being the Bellin in Green Bay, but according to Ray Parnell, treasurer on the first PaceSetters’ Board in 1984, “Most runners did not know one another except to nod at each other at races.” He adds, “What was missing [locally] was a support group of other like-minded runners and a mechanism to pass info about running and races. Our only source of information and training and everything else was Runner’s World magazine.”
As far as timing goes, the early- to mid-1980s was a good time to start a club of this nature. Gloria West, one of the founders of the PaceSetters, says, “Fitness was important. Running was big, and there was an emphasis on getting PRs.”
Part of the interest in fitness and running started back in the 1960s and 1970s with a series of books (such as Aerobics  and Run for Your Life: Aerobic Conditioning for Your Heart ), published by military fitness expert and runner Kenneth Cooper. Aside from sparking the soon-to-explode aerobics/fitness craze, the author also increased general interest in running specifically as an aerobic activity. Add to that the awareness of the sport generated by the likes of Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers running the marathon distance and winning titles at the Olympics and Boston, and running was “discovered.”
Locally, some folks had taken notice of the new trend, too. John Lingnofski served as Fitness Director for the Neenah YMCA from 1975-1989, was one of the PaceSetters’ founding members, and currently is on the PaceSetters’ Board as Sponsorship Director. He says that around 1979-1980, they developed a fitness program marketed to businesses in the area. “The Starter Fitness Program was a 12-week program that met three times a week. The hope was that if people completed the entire program, they would keep going.” The program, which also featured an education component and newsletter, is where several of the founding PaceSetters first got their start (or re-start) in fitness. Those early members included Ray Parnell. “I got my rebirth in running at 37 from taking John’s class at the Y. I was a miler in high school and ran cross country as a freshman in college before chemistry labs took my attention and time away.”
Although the timing was right and there was definitely interest in the area for starting a running club, it wasn’t until Gloria West moved to the area from Milwaukee that things started happening. “In Milwaukee, I had been involved with the Badgerland Striders, and I missed having a club. [Moving to this area] I started handing out flyers trying to get folks interested in starting a club.”
And there was interest. According to Lingnofski, “People were starting to host races – most of them 5Ks and 10Ks.” Many of the early contributors to the PaceSetters were not only members of local fitness classes, such as Lingnofski’s (as well as Lingnofski himself), but were also runners solicited blindly via flyers handed out at the finish lines of these local events.
Meeting in homes and later at a bar in downtown Appleton, the first year of the club was spent determining a direction for the club to take. West recalls how there had been an earlier attempt at forming a running club in the area. “It failed miserably very quickly, because it was perceived as a few guys who were very fast runners. That told me that was not the direction to go. Instead, we made a concerted effort to make this educational, informational, and social.”
Given the number of running opportunities available through the club today – no less than five weekly runs fall though spring, summer training runs, monthly fun runs, and four race events a year – it might be hard to imagine that in the early years, there wasn’t any actual running. As Jim Schmidt recalls, “There were no weekly runs or fun runs. It was all about the meetings.” And why not? After all, people were already running, what was missing was education. Sue Schmalz (formerly Sue Le May), 1984 PaceSetters Secretary and one of the first ones in the valley to do an Ironman Triathlon, says, “Back then people had no computers. We wanted to have a monthly venue where we could bring in a guest to speak about racing, nutrition, and other general topics of interest to runners.”
The first monthly meetings did just that. In addition, Lingnofski states, “They were a clearinghouse for upcoming races. Race directors would come and pitch their events.” Schmalz agrees, saying, “People had no easy means to learn about races. I had stacks of race applications that I would bring to the meetings.”
Still, with those first public monthly meetings, it became clear that it wasn’t just about the information. West recalls, “With the first Boards of Directors, we really tried to emphasize the social. In fact, we had a rule that at monthly meetings we could not talk to each other. We were to reach out and engage new people. We wanted to set a precedent to not be cliquey.” And it seemed to work.
According to Jim Schmidt, “Around 70 people was a small crowd. We’d usually have about 100, sometimes 125, people at meetings.” Gloria West remembers that number being even higher – at times closer to 250 to 300 people. “Of course, we had beer there, and it was just the thing to do. Sometimes the party would continue in Menasha afterwards.”
Over the past 25 years, the club has changed. Different personalities have contributed to its growth. Now in the computer age, the need is not so pressing – nor is it realistic – to expect to be viewed as the only source of running information. But what hasn’t changed is the club’s ability to reach out to the community and offer education and social opportunities to those who want them. It speaks volumes that some of those core members who started out with the club are still involved: Jim Schmidt, Ron Goudreau, John Lingnofski, and Gloria West, to name a few. Lingnofski states, “I never in my wildest dreams thought that the club would be around in 25 years, and not just around but doing well.”
Next month, “The Club That Runs Together …The Advent of Fun Runs.
Any Questions or Comments?