Sam White would have been proud. Princeton proud.
“It means the world to me and I think we just have one of the best communities around,” said White’s sister, Alice Neal. “I know without a doubt that Sammi would be absolutely ecstatic today at this.
“I am just so thankful for all these people.”
The first annual Sam White 5K Run/Walk wasn’t like most first such events.
“I actually didn’t know him, I knew of him, but this is a tremendous tribute to Sam and what he was about,” said Robert Pettry, one more than 400 runners/walkers who participated in the event held on Saturday morning in downtown Princeton. “When you have this kind of turnout in a first year race around here, it is just incredible.
“You had 450 to 500 people show up for a race, that is just tremendous.”
“It just goes to show, and I have said this many times,” added Princeton football coach and race organizer Randy Peek, “how many lives Sammi touched and is still touching.”
White, a former coach at both PikeView and Princeton high schools, died unexpectedly last November, leaving behind a loving family — including his wife, Kelli, and young children, Whitney (3 1/2) and Easton (1 year) — and more friends than perhaps even his family knew he had.
“It was like at his wake, the outpouring of people, it is just overwhelming, I told somebody this morning that it is hard to grieve when you are this proud,” said White’s mother, Vickie, who walked the 3.1 mile course with her husband, also named Sam, both in blaze orange race T-shirts designed from their son’s love for hunting. “We are just so overwhelmed and we are so thankful to Princeton and PikeView and this whole Mercer County is wonderful...
“It is just awesome, I just will never forget this sea of orange on this street today. It is beautiful, I am so thankful.”
More than 470 runners/walkers registered for the event, and 402 crossed the finish line, led by former Concord athlete Lance McDaniel, who finished in a time of 15 minutes and 51 seconds. The top female finisher was Amanda Lollar, also of Athens, who was seventh overall in 20:54.
“I don’t run with a time in mind,” McDaniel said. “It doesn’t really matter what kind of time I run or what place I get, but I am just happy to be able to do it. The Lord has blessed me so I was happy with the time.”
No one was more appreciative of the event and all those involved than White’s family, including Sam’s wife of six years, Kelli, who has seen the impact her husband continues to make in the region.
“It is wonderful, we are truly blessed by everyone that has shown support for me and my family,” Kelli White said. “We were expecting 50 to 100 runners and walkers and to have over 400, almost 450, we are just truly blessed by the community support.
“He loved the kids and he loved the community and Princeton was his home and he never wanted to leave, and you can see that from today. He was truly loved, he truly was.”
McDaniel, a former standout at Concord, is no stranger to running, winning the Thunder Road Half-Marathon last November in Charlotte, N.C. He finished ahead of Bluefield, Va. resident Nick Whited (17:30), 14-year-old Dakota Cecil (19:52), 12-year-old Cade Fix (19:57) and Michael Canterbury (19:59).
Peek and assistant coach Randy Wilson, both of whom were close friends with White, brought in Precision Timing Systems from Greensboro, N.C. to assist with the timing, which allowed the event run without issues and end in far less than two hours.
“People made comments that it is organized, but it didn’t feel organized to me,” Peek said. “I guess it was organized chaos and it went well and it is all for a good cause.
“This community is very supportive in everything that you do and we are so proud of the town of the Princeton and all the help that we got... We were expecting maybe a hundred people and it just kept growing, we are excited about it and again we just appreciate everybody coming out.”
Whited, who is a regular on the running circuits in the region, arrived at Princeton early — really early — on Saturday. He was there at 5:30 a.m., ran 12 miles, participated in the race and then ran another four miles, all in the name of training for a busy schedule.
“I was using this as a training run just because I had met Sam and the cause is really, really good and there was no sense in me not coming out here,” said Whited, who didn’t mind finishing second to McDaniel. “That is fine, I am not in the same league as Lance, he is a lot better runner than me in shorter distance, I think I could take him in a marathon.”
The race began at Burke Memorial Baptist Church on Thorn Street, circled around near Mark Wood (State Farm) Insurance on Mercer Street and returned to the original start/finish line.
That was the same route that White and Wilson used to take five or six days a week, and Wilson and Peek ran it on Friday in preparation for the race.
“He was very athletic, he lost a lot of weight and he did it by running and working out,” Kelli White said. “He enjoyed running through town, he didn’t want to run inside. He enjoyed running from the house down through town and he wanted everybody to know and to run like he did.
“He encouraged everybody to get out and run with him...He would go from 5th street at our house and down. He and Randy Wilson would run this path around and circle around town.”
Another Athens resident, Amanda Lollar, who won the Jerolee White 5K two weeks ago at Bluefield State, claimed the women’s overall race in a time of 20:54. She finished ahead of Kristy French (22:03), Kira Shoemaker (22:20), 16-year-old Kaylin Kessinger (25:20) and Diedra Archer (25:28).
Lollar, who is part of the local group “Run for God” that also includes Neal, set a personal record by finishing the 5K in 20 minutes and 54 seconds. The “Run for God” organization had around 150 runners entered in the race.
“This race was the most encouraging race I have done, the turnaround and how people were cheering you on the way back,” Lollar said. “Usually that doesn’t happen so much, but the walkers, the runners, all of them were really supportive.”
Neal, who often ran similar events with her brother, finished 36th in 26:42, just 30 seconds short of her record time. Sammi — as he was called — was always there to cheer his sister on, and she had no doubt he was doing the same on this day.
“I miss him being here,” Neal said. “He would have been here cheering for me, but I know he is cheering for me in Heaven.”
What sets a 5K apart from most sports is that most of the athletes aren’t concerned with winning. They just want to participate and finish.
Take, for instance, former Princeton football coach Ted Spadaro, who trained over the previous three weekends to prepare for his first-ever 5K run so he could show his support for White and his family.
“All these people, probably 99 percent of them knew Sam, or they knew his family and that is the reason why they came out to support his family and mother and dad,” said Spadaro, who added with a laugh. “I am sure he is probably saying ‘Coach, you should have come in 5 minutes earlier.’”
There was also Debbie Maynard, who works at the Greater Bluefield Chamber of Commerce. She registered as a walker, but ran and walked, and deservedly so.
“One year ago this month I completed my stem cell transplant at Wake Forest University for Multiple Myeloma so I am proud as a cancer survivor to run and walk this race today in support of Sammi White,” Maynard said. “I knew him, he used to mow my grass, he was a coach for my grandson (Clayton Rickman) and a friend of my husband’s, and his wife taught with my two daughters.
“It is overwhelming to see the community support that came down in the churches and everyone that supported it.”
The funds raised by the Sam White 5K has a two-fold purpose, and is why this first event will continue annually into the future.
“We are going to have to a scholarship that goes to a student-athlete at Princeton High School and then we are going to set up a college fund for Sammi’s kids,” Wilson said. “It is just a community event and it is a great honor to Sammi and that is what he was about, the community and helping people and it is a great thing.”
White, who was a head baseball coach at PikeView, was an assistant with Princeton football at the time of his death. Rising senior Christian Marshall is among the Tigers who will miss White when August rolls around.
“I know where he is and we don’t have to worry about that,” said Marshall, who spoke of White’s Christian influence on the team. “I think his death brought us all closer to God, I loved him, he was one of my best friends...
“This is a great turnout of people, I loved him, I miss him to death, and even though we do miss him to death, we did this for him and his kids and his family.”
It was an emotional day for many who knew White, and his family was appreciative of all who took the time to pay tribute to him.
“I appreciate that, that shows you the love my son had for people,” said White’s father, Sam, who used to hunt and fish often with his son.
“It is a pouring out of love, I appreciate it and I thank God for the support being shown to the family.
“No way in the world did I expect all these people. It was a great turnout and I appreciate all the work and all the people that ran in it, and I thank God for everything.”
When the 2013 season begins for the Princeton football team, the Tigers will be playing for more than just wins.
“We are going to do it him,” Marshall said. “We are going to do it for Princeton High School and do it for Coach White.”
—Contact Brian Woodson
Sam White would have been proud. Princeton proud.
- Local Sports
- Cardinals stun Rays with 5 runs in 9th
- Saints marching in
- BRJGT stops at Greenbrier
- Bluefield loses another heartbreaker
- Wilson powers Rays past Cardinals
- Wasilewski, Church still producing in the minors
- Appy League: Kiermaier honored, Sanchez promoted
- Princeton scores 3 in 7th to top Cards
- Almonte, Smith lead Jays past Twins 7-2
- Isaacs fine with pressures of closer’s role
- More Local Sports Headlines