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Michael Stowe (left) with Runabout Sports owner James Demarco.

The lights were dim in Frank Theatres CineBowl & Grille at the Runabout Sports awards gala. No one could see the tiny tears in the corner of my eyes as James DeMarco presented me the 2018 Running Ambassador of the Year for creating this website.

I was shocked and humbled – and embarrassed – by the attention. Sharing the inspiring stories of our running community is fun and rewarding for me, even if it stresses me sometimes to juggle it with my day job and my own running. Seeing your stories shared on social media and watching the site earn more than 6,000 pageviews is reward enough for me.

My emotions swelled mainly because the recognition was coming from James. It’s fitting, though, because without James there wouldn’t be a NRVruns.com. Because without James, I wouldn’t be part of this wonderful community he began creating when he opened Runabout Sports in 2003.

Yes, Blacksburg had a running club and occasional group runs and races before James came to town. But the community blossomed and grew once he got here and began spreading his knowledge, enthusiasm and passion. It took a visionary like James to meld together the Blacksburg High cross country and track teams he coached with the activities of Runabout and the Blacksburg Striders to create the family of runners – fast and slow, old and young, trail enthusiasts and road warriors – that exists today.

On a personal level, I’m grateful both of my daughters were mentored and shaped by him as runners for Blacksburg High. James is one of the top coaches in the country – without a doubt – but his lessons went way beyond how to run faster. He taught character and work ethic and how to support your friends and community.

Anyone who knows James has heard him talk about how his own father’s struggles with alcohol drive him to promote a healthy lifestyle for all ages. So, James had zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol by his athletes, telling them they had 10 minutes to leave if they found themselves at a party where it was present. Don’t want to call a parent for a ride, then call James.

Nobody wants to win more than James – but he also knows that a big part of running, and life, is how you deal with disappointment. You assess what went wrong, develop a new plan and keep moving forward. It’s a good lesson for all ages.

James and his wife, Mina, moved to Wisconsin three years ago for Mina’s job. Even though James still owns Runabout, he only gets back to Blacksburg for three events a year – Hokie Half marathon (fall), Runabout Awards/Blacksburg Classic (spring) and High Performance Running Camp (summer).

As a college town, Blacksburg is a transient community which means many of the dozens of runners who turn out for the Wednesday night pub runs and Runabout Race Series events don’t know James. But they see his influence in Caroline Honeycut and Peter Dorrell and Noah Combs and Jenn Fleming, all former runners for James who work at the store or at Runabout races.

The annual Runabout awards night is another way James’ generosity and community spirit is exemplified.

Runabout recognizes runners of all speeds, ages and sizes. Run 100 miles in January, get a t-shirt. Run 2018 or 1000 miles last year, get a t-shirt. Complete 8 of 11 Runabout Race Series events, win a sweatshirt. And those awards are on top of the cash and merchandise the store gives to the race series winners.

The event costs the store thousands of dollars, at a time when profit margins are tight for most brick and mortar retailers. Yes, James keeps it going.

Thank you, James, for all you have done and continue to do for our community.

In my book, you are the all-time running ambassador for this town.

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