WeissCrax: Running with Heart

The race course in Ojai was spectacular

The day starts early …

5:57 to be exact.

Time for the first race of the season – the American Heart Association’s (AHA) “Classic Heart & Sole 10K Run, 5K Run/Walk & Kid’s Run.”

Destination: OJAI – about 40 miles east.

First, there’s the usual stop at Peet’s for a ‘cuppa Joe’. A blast of caffeine to jolt the senses! Moments later, the car eases off La Cumbre and blends onto California Route 101.

It’s wide open …

Soon, the shining Saturday sun spotlights a small sleepy sailboat off Summerland’s shore — its naked mast casts a skinny starboard shadow on the ripple-less Pacific.

Further up, a looong line of RV’s decorate the curling coastline, for what has to be amongst the most magnificent places to launch any day. Then venturing inland in Ventura, it’s an easy 12-mile ride through Oak View and into the heart of Ojai.

Way, way down Grand Ave – there’s mucho activity: tiny little humans in bright colors at the First Baptist Church.

“Good morning. Good Morning” goes to the cheerful race volunteers – actually real size when a lot closer — minutes later at the registration tables.

A warm reception with lotsa smiles and temperature in mid-50’s – all perfect conditions!

“We’re thrilled with the turnout,” sez Cindy Noboa, AHA Business Director. She shares quick stats – 182 ‘pre-reg’ including 47 kids. Plus, a steady stream of new sign-ups …

American Heart Association Business Director Cindy Naboa, left, and AHA executive Nickki Peavey

“We hope to raise over $20,000 today and all that money helps local programs,” she adds. The good news is that she’s staying close by, and not running at eight-and-a-half months ‘prego.’

“For the last 20 years, this event has been a grass roots community campaign. It’s all about these awesome volunteers,” adds Nickki Peavey, Cindy’s boss & Vice President of Business Development for AHA’s Western States Affiliate.

Seasoned runner George Garvey, 79, can't wait to "age up" next year.

Yes, it’s another grand affair. The 10K again includes Dr. Fred Fauvre, 67, local legend, cardiologist and two-time heart survivor. More from “The Good Doctor” later …

When the 5K races starts an hour later, its clear there will be no PR (personal record) for this sportz journalist. Option B is ‘more better’ – a slooow pace, allowing time to chat with everyone flying by. Stuff like:

“You rock!”

“Lookin’ good!”

And “Way to go, Dude!” to the fifth grader running in loving memory of his grandpa who died of a heart attack.

Even “The Freeman Sis-tahs” – Kelsey and Alicia – zoom by. Have watched them grow up and now Alicia is a Santa Barbara Bank & Trust colleague. WOW!!

And then there’s Joann Kara — her beautiful smile is framed by long blonde hair that dances lightly on her shoulders when she accelerates.

“This is my neighborhood,” she proclaims from her motorized wheelchair, after kiddingly being ‘busted for running the last STOP sign.’

A car accident at age 18 in 1977 left her with a “C-5-6” spinal cord injury – paralyzed from the chest down. But there’s no stopping her today – or any day.

Ojai residents Dr. Fred Faurve and Joann Kara were inspirational participants at the Classic Heart & Sole 10K Run, 5K Run/Walk.

Joann is a Special Education Aide at Ojai’s Mira Monte Elementary School AND cares for her parents, who are ‘a little tender’ from the natural aging process.

“We actually take care of each other,” she clarifies.

We talk about life … the warm Ojai Valley community … today’s kids … and about the love and challenges of teaching students with special needs. She watches the road carefully and slows at certain times when it dips.

“It’s takes an incredible person to do this kind of work,” I offer – something a long association with Special Olympics taught me.

“Where do you think you’d be if you weren’t in the chair,” – the words slip out so fast, there’s no hope of catching them.

“Park Ranger. Definitely. I just love Nature’s beauty,” she responds, not missing a beat.

Talking with her is a wake-up call on life. Ironic that it all comes down to “heart and soul” – the sorta name of today’s race.

And about rising above whatever challenges are tossed your way.

Time flies and when we arrive in tandem at the Finish Line, there’s warm applause – all for her. My eyes scan to see the wonderment in many spectator eyes.

Dr. Fauvre catches up to us a few minutes later – he and Joann are already well-acquainted (that’s all you get here thanx to ‘medical confidentiality’).

“We started about 20 years ago to encourage students and all the locals to have healthy lifestyles. I’ve been involved ever since,” he sez.

He keeps going …

“Since this has always been a running town — Nordoff High School’s women track team always wins the State Championship – it’s a great way to raise this awareness and money for research and have some fun, too,” he adds.

Then, on the return trip home, it’s time to live Joann’s life lesson plan.

When ‘State Beaches’ flash up on 101’s green CALTRANS highway sign high above in Ventura – powerful magnetic forces commandeer the car. Slow it waaay, waaay down too!

Solimar and Faria Beach provide for a much closer look at life … surfers … runners …bikers …. walkers … and, of course, all those RV’s lined up.

Never seen them all this close up before!

Further along the coast – more fun detours: Santa Barbara’s Cabrillo Blvd for more of the same (sans RVs), then cruising State Street – all while basking in the golden sun rays before arriving home.

It’s clear that February may be about Valentines Day and Go Red for Women and races like these for wonderful causes – but it has never been more about ‘heart’ than it is right now.

Thanks, Joann. What an incredible day – and not bad for only 11:30 a.m.!!

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