Archive for Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Tonganoxie man runs throughout the country

August 28, 2002

At 63, Wally Brawner is continuing a tradition he started in high school.

Running has been in the former teacher's legs for more than 40 years, and the constant training has produced a few national titles.

Brawner, who lives in rural Tonganoxie, took third Aug. 9 in the U.S. Track and Field steeplechase championships in Orono, Maine, on the University of Maine campus.

Running with the Mid-America Racing Association, Brawner ran the 2,000-meter event in 8 minutes, 31.84 seconds, more than five seconds behind Joe Cordero and less than 10 seconds behind Canadian Vern Christensen. Cordero was with the Bohemia Track Club located in New England.

In seven of the last eight national meets, Brawner has competed, winning four titles and grabbing second in the other two. Brawner didn't compete in last year's event, which was held in Baton Rouge, La.

"I knew it would be 100 degrees, so I knew I wouldn't be going," Brawner said.

A native of Goodland, Brawner came to the University of Kansas after high school. He tried out for the Jayhawk track team, practicing alongside KU track star Billy Mills. But calculus and physics became more of a priority, and Brawner left the university with an education degree. A longtime teacher and coach at Kansas City-Washington, Brawner has kept on running, logging about 20 miles each week. And whether he's in Goodland, Kansas City or Tonganoxie, Brawner has been right at home running.

"I live out on the country gravel road," Brawner said. "It's the pits.

"Running around the track is critically boring, not to mention hot. So I run the streets of good old Tonganoxie."

College stadiums have also been a common ground for Brawner. Although he no longer competes in the Sunflower State Games, those events were held at KU's Memorial Stadium. Brawner has also made stops in Maine, California, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan and Washington. In Florida, Brawner also ran at Disney World's Wide World of Sports complex.

Brawner, though, found a location in the northwest to be better than anything Mickey and Pluto could assemble Eugene, Ore., home of the Oregon Ducks and former Olympian Steve Prefontaine.

"Without a doubt Eugene, Oregon, is the best place to go with weather factors and all," Brawner said. "And the history."

Nationals were in Eugene in 1998 and will return next year.

Steeplechase divisions are broken up into five-year increments. Brawner started when he was 55 and competed in that level until he was 59. Getting older has its perks, though. Now in the 60-64 division, the competition is 2,000 meters, compared to 3,000 in the 55-59 range. That distance is the same as the collegiate competition. From here on out, Brawner will compete in the 2,000 meter with five pit stations.

"That's what it is until you die, or you quit," Brawner said.

Before taking the steeplechase route, Brawner ran 10K and 5K races competitively nationally. He got to the point where he couldn't compete on that level, so he switched to the steeplechase. Trouble is, it's hard to practice for the steeplechase locally because few tracks have proper equipment. Brawner, however, makes due with his four mile per day allotment. At this year's nationals, Brawner finished with about the same time as he did two years ago, and lost to Cordero by about the same margin.

No matter his finish, though, Brawner loves to run.

"It's a friendly competition," he said.

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