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The finished line? Island author and track event founder to step down
Jim Whiting was the leader of the pack for 20 years.
He founded the pack, in fact.
Now, after two decades of organizing the annual Kiwanis All-Comer’s Track Meet community event, a Bainbridge cultural staple that has come to be a nearly mandatory summer activity for dozens of children and families, Whiting has announced that this will be his last season in the lead. He is stepping down to spend more time with family and to travel.
Whiting said he began the event, which begins again Monday, July 7, shortly after he and his family relocated to the island, but that he initially had a slightly more mature audience in mind.
“It started in ’95, shortly after we moved to Bainbridge,” Whiting remembered. “Based on my own experience with running in college and then as a post-collegiate runner, I thought I was going to have three constituencies: high school runners getting ready for the cross country season, college runners trying to stay in shape during the summer and adults who would be interested in their mile time.”
There’s a reason, he laughed, that he’s never won the lottery.
“I’ve never been more wrong,” he said. “It turned out to be kind of a family thing. Parents bring their kids, they kind of make an evening out of it. A lot of them have a picnic supper.”
“I think they like it because it’s a combination of form — there’s a definite structure and organization to it — and at the same time it’s kind of free form in that you don’t need to sign up or anything like that,” he said.
Whiting said that, at first, the youngest age group he accounted for was 5 and under, but that there were soon so many kids in that group he was forced to further alter the races and include events for those 4 and under.
“[I] thought that would be it,” Whiting said. “Not long after that it went down to 3 and under, and sometimes I have so many kids in that age group that I thought maybe we should go to 2 and under.”
Typically, Whiting said, each week’s event sees between 150 and 175 runners and he would guess that, “85 to 90 percent of them are 10 and under.”
The meets are slated to continue weekly, every Monday after July 7, through Monday, August 25 at the Bainbridge High School track. Events start at 6:30 p.m., and there is no admission charge.
Race distances are 50, 100, 200, 400 and 800 meters. There are also 60-meter step hurdles (a foot high and 18 inches wide) and a 4×100 meter relay.
The shorter races are divided into heats according to age group and gender.
There’s also a joggers’ mile, with the winner determined by closeness to his or her predicted time.
Results will be posted at www.jimwhiting.com.
Whiting said that he is proud of the event’s popularity and knows firsthand the benefits of running, which is an activity that he said is especially beneficial to learn young as a person can conceivably enjoy it for most of their life.
“My wife told me [recently] that 60 percent of Americans are overweight and I don’t see a lot of overweight people at the All-Comers,” he said. “I think it’s great for them [kids], and that’s why I like to see the really young kids out there. Right from the get-go, they learn the value of exercise and how much fun it is. A lot of them like to win, but even the ones who don’t win like to come out and have a good time.”
In addition to organizing and leading the all-comers’s event, Whiting is the coach of the Blazers middle school cross country team, middle school cross country team, which he founded seven years ago.
“It’s for grades five through eight and we start the last week of August,” he explained. “That started with 35 kids, last [season] we had 80. The last four years we’ve been undefeated. As a coach I like to compete, as a coach I also like to make sure that all my kids, regardless of where they finish, have a good experience.”
The success of the Blazers, Whiting said, has spawned at least five more programs through the Bainbridge Island Metro Parks & Recreation District with which he is involved.
“I’ve pretty much have something going all four seasons during the year,” Whiting laughed.
It came as perhaps no surprise to those heavily involved in the summer track events then, when early this year Whiting declared that this would be his final turn at the helm.
“This being the 20th year it seemed like a good opportunity for me to move on,” he explained. “I’m certainly hopeful that [the all-comer’s] will continue. There are a number of different guises it could take.”
Whiting said he was confident he was leaving the program in good condition for whoever would ultimately take over, having steered through a particularly tough budget situation last year and coming out OK.
“Last year our expenses increased by a factor of about four,” he said. “It went from being — our total expenses — $1,200 or $1,500. They went up to $6,000 for a variety of reasons, and Kiwanis, quite literally within minutes of learning about the situation, stepped up and took over the entire sponsorship. So we’re certainly grateful to them.”
Having secured funding for the popular program, but not an heir, Whiting said he is hopeful that by the end of the season there would emerge a new coordinator.
“One possibility would be to have a meeting of people who are interested in exploring some of the options that are available,” he said. “It could be an individual that steps up, or it could be a committee that takes it over. What I envision, once the season is over, is just having a general meeting and spending an hour or so just kind of kicking around ideas and seeing what we can come up with.”
Those interested in volunteering at the track events, or for more information about the future of the program, contact Whiting at firstname.lastname@example.org.