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2016 wharf to wharf

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4 WHARF TO WHARF SATURDAY | JULY 23, 2016 SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL K en Thomas spent decades as a teacher, principal and coach throughout Santa Cruz County. He was also the first ever Wharf to Wharf race director when it started in 1973 and volunteered to step in as the official starter. Thomas served a short stint of six years as race director but managed to stay on board as the official starter. This Sunday will mark the 44th time he'll be in charge of getting runners on their mark prior to the loud blast of a starting gun. "It's fun," Thomas said. It doesn't sound like much of a job but it's definitely not easy getting 16,000 people lined up and making sure that nobody takes off before they are supposed to start. Thomas said up until a couple of years ago everybody theoretically started at the same time and if anybody was in the back of the pack they weren't going anywhere. But that all changed in 2013 when the board of directors, where Thomas is the president, decided to go with a corral system where people are now grouped into different start times based on times they reported. Elite men runners must meet the minimum standard of a sub 29-minute mark in a 10k race, while women runners require to have sub 34-minutes. Thomas also went with a new approach five years ago when he decided to reach out to different groups to allow somebody the opportunity to start the race by shooting the gun. Most recently he teamed up with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation where the company held a fundraiser in the fall to raffle a ticket to give someone the chance to be the Wharf to Wharf co-official starter. "I thought somebody might enjoy doing that and we generate some money for worthy causes," Thomas said. The very first corral is for elite runners and the person who won the raffle will shoot the starting gun, while Thomas will sit 25 feet above the crowd on a manlift to do announcements and get the runners set. Capitola native Brian Stow will also be a special guest where he'll start the race for the remaining four corrals. Kirby Nicol, who was a long-time Wharf to Wharf race director, first met Thomas in the late winter of 1972 at Soquel High. Thomas was the running coach for the track and field team under the late Melvin Fishburn, while Nicol was put in charge of high jump and pole vault. Shortly after the two of them helped run the first ever Wharf to Wharf race where Thomas was the official starter and Nicol helped down at the finish line. "Down through the years he and I worked together like brothers," Nicol said. Nicol said the Wharf to Wharf is lucky to have a person like Thomas who has a strong network connection because the race is run by nearly 2,000 volunteers. "Ken's going to be a tough act to follow because he's been there since day 1 and he has that sense of history and appreciation," Nicol said. Wharf to Wharf race director Scott McConville said Thomas is an icon in the community because of everything he's done in Santa Cruz County and the race. He said Thomas goes out of his way to help people and is a mentor to so many people in the area. "(Thomas) knows the history of the event and he also has been a leader at every position he's been in," McConville said. McConville said one of Thomas' noticeable features as a leader is listening to people for feedback to make changes like the corral system. There probably isn't too much to improve the race other than perhaps making the six-mile race longer in distance, but Thomas said if anything it'd be nice to accommodate all of the people that want to run. Thomas never imagined the Wharf to Wharf would grow since it was just a small race he agreed to help out at. But then Kirby came on board that was an assistant coach at Soquel High. He had an idea of how to make the race a better attraction. "We went with his vision, so to speak, and then the race just kept getting bigger and more popular. It was good," Thomas said. Nicol said also he never thought the race would become what it is today. What was originally a race is now a special event and added, "It's actually a date on the local calendar that people who under the age of 50 have never known life without the Wharf to Wharf race." It only comes around once a year but the being the official starter at the Wharf to Wharf has been a normal routine for Thomas since the inaugural race in '73. So, when will it be time for him to wall mount the starting gun? "That's a good question, that's a good question," Thomas said. "If you ask my wife this will be my last year but I like what I'm doing. It's a way to stay part of something that I've enjoyed over the years." by Juan Reyes, Santa Cruz Sentinel On Your Mark, Get Set, Go... FOR THE 44TH TIME! courtesy of Wharf to Wharf

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