The inaugural Sally Meyerhoff 5K is expected to have a wide ranging and eclectic field.
She wouldn't want it any other way.
"Sally was an elite runner and very focused, but she didn't come off that way at events," race director Steve Rink said. "She would hang out after her race with the average age groupers and just talked. She didn't meet a person she didn't make smile or did something that left an impression on them.
"She had a way of showing an interest in your running and you trusted what she had to say."
Rink's take on Meyerhoff is one of thousands of stories shared since her death on March 8 when Meyerhoff, an Olympic marathon hopeful, was struck by a truck in Maricopa while she was out training on her bike.
The race, which starts at 8 a.m., on Saturday at Kiwanis Park in Tempe is expected to bring even more stories. The initial race isn't so much about personal record times as personal remembrance of Meyerhoff, who touched many during her career at Marcos de Niza, Mountain Pointe, Duke and professional careers.
The field is going to contain professional runners to former pupils to admirers to someone who never even met Meyerhoff.
"There is a running group from Maricopa with 125 runners who all signed up at the same time," Rink said. "I don't even know if anyone of them knew her. They may have since that is where she lived, but there are going to be a lot of people who just got off the couch for this event."
Rink was told by local race organizers that he would have trouble getting close to 500 entrants. He said they had no clue as to how far reaching her touch was within the racing community.
As of Monday Rink, a Cave Creek resident, had about 650 entrants and hoped for 800 by the start of the race.
Among the field is Barbara Neal.
Neal, a student service specialist at Mountain Pointe, is a runner by association as her daughters were all cross country runners for the Pride.
The oldest, Riley, was a teammate of Meyerhoff at Mountain Pointe and her youngest, Shelby, was coached by her when Meyerhoff took over the program before heading to Oregon to focus on her professional career.
"She was a great role model for (Riley) and how dedicated she was to the sport," Neal said. "She was always trying to help other runners and win that state championship. She was somebody for everyone to look up to and aspire to be."
Neal, 52, is running in this event alone, but will be joined by her three daughters in the PF Chang's half-marathon in January as Meyerhoff still serves as a motivation.
"Whenever I run South Mountain I always think of her because when Riley was a senior that's where they did their training on Fridays," she said. "I still remember how fast and hard Sally hit the hills when she was training."
The event will be unique in that the awards will not be the typical T-shirt and medal, as Meyerhoff always liked the offbeat.
She was known to wear pink, leopard print and put her long blonde hair in pigtails. Sometimes all at the same time. The offbeat approach will also be applied to the awards for those crossing the finish line. The Meyerhoff 5K participants will receive painted rocks, plants and plenty of other odd ball gifts.
Participants, fans and observers are encouraged to stay afterward as there will be a multitude of giveaways, awards, prizes and, most importantly, there will be an exchange of stories. Proceeds from the event will go to the Sally Meyerhoff Foundation, which was created by her family to help up-and-coming professional runners who don't have a lot of sponsorship.
Then, on Saturday evening, there will be an after party at Toby Keith's Bar, located at Mesa Riverview (Dobson and the U.S. 60), to continue the celebration of one of the nation's best endurance runners, and all that she meant to those who crossed her path.
"Sally and I talked about doing a 5K together and the day after she died I decided to go ahead with it," Rink said. "There is nothing we can do to bring her back, but she can definitely live on through all of us and our stories."
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