Ward

Rachel Ward runs to victory at the Women's Four Miler on Saturday in Charlottesville. Ward has now won the race a record eight times.

On a hot, humid, fog-draped morning, University of Virginia nursing student Rachel Ward led more than 2,300 females along a scenic stretch of Garth Road en route to her eighth Women’s Four Miler title.

Ward stopped the clock at 22:09, slightly over a minute ahead of Four Miler first-timer Brittany Tretbar (23:10) and former Olympic Marathon Trials competitor Rachel Booth (23:21), who rounded out the top three.

Ward took the lead from the bell and led from wire to wire at the 36th running of this beloved community event. A small pack stayed within reach of Ward as she took them through the half mile mark in 2:30 and the first mile in 5:14, but by the time the former Albemarle state champion blazed through the two-mile mark, she had opened a 20-second lead on the field.

Despite the 28-year-old Ward’s record number of wins at Charlottesville’s largest participatory sporting event, the two-time U.S. Olympic Trials athlete was her usual gracious and modest self.

“I absolutely love this event,” gushed the champ. “It’s so thrilling yet so humbling to see all of the hundreds of volunteers and hundreds more spectators, from all walks of life, including many of the brilliant UVa cancer doctors, lining the entire course to cheer all of us on. And then to see thousands of other women and girls rallying around the cause together as they work hard to complete the four miles in their own personal goal makes my heart soar.”

Speaking of volunteers, more 400 folks came out to help co-directors Cynthia and Audrey Lorenzoni and the Charlottesville Track Club coordinate what many participants feel is one of the best-organized events around. Several high school cross country and field hockey teams lined the course and helped pass out water in the challenging weather conditions, including Monticello, Charlottesville, Western Albemarle, Covenant and Albemarle, plus Tom Hintz and his famous army of 100 early morning parkers.

“I must admit that it felt bittersweet for me as I drove in past all those wonderful parkers this morning,” lamented Ward. “I had such a blast helping them last year [when she missed the race due to injury] that I almost jumped out to help them instead of warming up for the race. Audrey and Cynthia and their many devoted volunteers pour so much of themselves into this event to help create a long-lasting memory for thousands of women and their families. How lucky we all are.”

Longtime Women’s Four Miler training program coordinator Pam Whorley was bestowed The Bev McCoid Award, the race’s highest honor, for her many years of devotion to the event and for helping so many women get started with exercise.

Despite the geographical diversity of the field, with participants coming from as far as California to enjoy this iconic event, the age group leader board was dominated by area runners. Locals took the blue ribbon in 15 of the 16 age groups, with Mia Claytor, Madeline Creasy, Allie Edmonds, Nicki Douma, Julianne Quinn, Ann Dunn, Kate Galie, Meg Crook, Kate Jaffe, Nicola Ratcliffe, Hosni Haghighian, Linda Scandore, Nancy Davis-Imhof and Nancy Fraser taking first overall in their respective age divisions. Of particular note was 55-year-old William Monroe teacher and coach Kendall Tata, whose amazing 26:03 was the top time of anyone age 40 and above.

One of the aspects of the event that makes the Four Miler so special is the diversity of the huge field, as it touches all socio-economic groups and ages. There were several grandmothers who ran side by side with their granddaughters.

Many teams competed along the course, including 39 mother-daughter duos, with Anne Hemenway and Amy Nichols taking first in that deep division. Twin sisters Mindy Hill and Leah Connor took third in the sister-sister division, running as “Twins RUN in our Family.”

Plus, there were close to 750 females that walked the course, making this huge running event also one of the community’s largest walking events. Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker was among those walkers, as her team of community walking friends finished the Four Miler for the first time.

This year’s proceeds of $150,000-plus pushes the total amount now raised by the Charlottesville Track Club for the UVa Cancer Center over the $4 million mark, making it one of the largest ongoing fundraisers in our community.

One of the top fundraisers this year was Judy McCelland, whose large group of “Judies Cuties” ran alongside her. UVa rowing coach Kevin Sauer and his entire team ran the race for the 20th year and raised more than $10,000 for the cause. Powered by the hard work of famous local disc jockey Les Sinclair, radio station Z95 and their Team Z were one of the top corporate fundraisers.

“We’re thrilled to be able to continue to support the wonderful work of our hardworking cancer physicians and surgeons in providing the best care possible for our neighbors battling breast cancer,” proudly beamed co-director Audrey Lorenzoni. “We are so appreciative of all the women who continue to give so much of themselves to this event and the cause like Vicky Eicher, Janet Herman, Natalie Krovetz and so many others.”

Perhaps no one summed up the energy, the enthusiasm, the emotion and thrill of this truly special event, then the champ herself.

“Yesterday felt like Christmas Eve, as I could hardly sleep last night because I was so excited,” Ward said. “Now, today feels just like Christmas Day. My entire immediate family was here to cheer me on and I was joined by my family of over 2,000 Charlottesville neighbors, who, every single year, make this day so special!”

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Mark Lorenzoni has been directing community races and coaching thousands of local runners on a volunteer basis for close to 40 years. He can be reached at 434-293-3367.

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