From 12 to 1,200
The stories, tales and journeys traveled by the Greenville
Track Club over the last 40 years
Written By John Boyanoski
| Photography By Julie Turner
The Greenville Track Club started with a race and idea –
both created from the fertile mind of Bill Keesling, head track and field coach
at Furman University in the early 1970s.
He wanted a running community in Greenville like the one he
experienced in Knoxville around the University of Tennessee. So he decided to
hold a race. He chose a course his runners knew from practice – the towering
Paris Mountain that shadows the campus.
Only 12 runners entered and not all of them finished, but
from those humble beginnings, the Greenville Track Club was born and grew into
a group of more than 1,200 members 40 years later.
Go spent a recent morning – fittingly enough back at the
Furman track – tracing that history. The interviewees were Keesling, John
Thompson, Bobby Chandler, Darrell Jennewine, Kerrie Sijon, Mike Burchett, Joe
Hammond and Bev Parlier. They are some
of the most well-known figures in the Upstate running community and the history
of the GTC, but they were quick to point out they are just a small part of the
Let’s go back to the GTC’s early years. The first Green
Valley 10-Miler cost $1. Runners wore low-top Chuck Taylors. They wore paper
plates instead of race bibs. Club meetings were held at the Oxford House
Cafeteria. Buying sneakers meant visiting stores that were the Upstate’s
sporting goods meccas at that time – Bill Delany’s Sports downtown, Sam Wyche
Sports near Cherrydale, Sports Unlimited in Greer and the Athletic Alley at
Haywood Mall. Age brackets ended at age 40 because no one older ever raced.
Well, at least not until Thompson joined the club in the mid-1970s.
In more recent years, Go readers may remember dodging ice
and downed trees at the 1996 Paris Mountain race, the Greenville Track Club
winning the 1981 national cross-country championship, and the GTC setting a
world record for the 100 by 5K relay in 2011.
The Group Interview
Races were a big part of the early ’70s GTC structure. Green
Valley was only open to Track Club members. Races were held on the Furman
campus. Metric system be damned, everything was either five miles or 10 miles.
One of the early signature races was a five-person, 25-mile relay around
Keesling: “Adrian Craven helped put that together. It was a
large loop. We had people coming from everywhere.”
Chandler: “There were some kids from an island. They would
Thompson: “Those girls were fast.”
Jennewine: “They were from the Caymans. Five little girls.
They were on a tour of the USA. Their anchor was 13 years old and about this
high (holds his hand about five feet from the ground). They wiped everyone in
Back then the club was loaded with elite runners. It won the
aforementioned 1981 championship. It had crowds of national and international
racers, and at least three GTC members made the Olympic trials. Member Kevin
McDonald won the Marine Corps Marathon. Hammond noted he was on the “B Team” in
1982 because he couldn’t run under a five-minute pace for five miles. Because
of all this, the GTC was tagged as a club for elite runners only.
Thompson: “It seemed like everyone ran fast.”
Parlier: “I wasn’t sure about joining because they all
seemed so elite – even the women. I was relieved when I went to my first
meeting and everyone was so welcoming and supportive.”
Jennewine: “There was a feeling it was about elite running.”
Keesling: “We were not founded to be an elite group, but the
only people who were running back then were elite runners. The goal was to get
the entire community involved.”
The elite running tag was something the GTC battled from
almost day one. The All-Comers events were started in the early ’70s to garner
support for track events. A group called
“Women on the Run” was started to promote the sport amongst females, which
Thompson wryly noted was never short of male volunteers. The YMCA started a
program called “100 miles in 100 Days” and helped garner interest in road
running and racing. The numbers of runners in big races started to swell. The
Reedy River was the first to earn a title sponsor – South Carolina National
Bank. The Greenville News-Piedmont followed with a 10-miler downtown that was
known for one grueling aspect – The Ridgeland Way hill.
Jennewine: “I was running well and feeling great. I came
around the corner and there was that freaking hill.”
Sijon: “The shirts for years had, ‘What Hill?’ on the back.”
Parlier: “A lot of bad words were said about that hill.”
Events boomed in the 1980s and 1990s as running in Greenville
evolved. Smaller clubs such as Greer – which featured Jennewine – and the
Golden Strip – which counted Chandler in its ranks – merged into the GTC.
Splinter groups of runners such as the 5:45 Club and the Bare Minimum Track
Club became the forerunners to the scores of morning, afternoon, evening and
weekend running groups that are now folded under the GTC.
The next goal was 26.2 miles, all done at one time in
Greenville. The idea of the Upstate Marathon was formed as collaboration
between regional running clubs and launched in December 1990.
Jennewine: “There was a lot of discussion of when to do it.
People said, ‘Well, we can’t compete with Charlotte and we can’t compete with
Kiawah.’ We were really beating ourselves up over it. Until some crazy lady
said why not the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s.”
Parlier (the aforementioned crazy lady): “I was race
director for Paris Mountain and I saw the marathon as part of it. Paris
Mountain would be your last warm-up before the marathon.”
People from 23 states took part in the first race in 1990. A
good start with plenty of community support, but some drawbacks.
Sijon: “I actually volunteered for the Roundtowners on 291.
I wasn’t a Track Club member then.”
Chandler: “It was a Sunday morning. That was interesting.”
Parlier: “We moved it to a Saturday so we wouldn’t have to
compete with the churches.”
A third Upstate marathon didn’t follow in 1992, even though
Jennewine kept being asked about it. It wasn’t until he went to a three-day
running festival in Bermuda in the mid-1990s that he thought about trying a
marathon again. He approached the GTC board again about a marathon, but
suggested they make it a weekend-long event. That laid the groundwork for Spinx
And all of this helped lead to the modern Greenville Track
Club, which encompasses elite runners to walkers; supports programs for kids,
beginners, seniors and again is getting back into team competition.
Burchett: “There are no barriers to enter.”
Chandler: “I can’t play Augusta with Phil Mickelson. I can
run the Boston Marathon with the best in the world.”
Parlier: “It’s a community. I think back to all the races I
have run. All the places I have been. You share something with other runners.
You can talk about injuries. You can talk about the events. Runners are the
Did You Know?
Greenville Track Club notes and trivia:
- Jeff Galloway won the first Paris Mountain race. Yes, the
same Jeff Galloway who also won the first Peachtree Road Race and later helped
organize that race for years.
- Some of the earliest members were Adrian Craven, Art
Williams, Duncan MacArthur, Charlie McQuillen and Al Thomas.
- Bill Keesling has a life-time membership. His card number
- One of the early races was a five-mile route known as the
Marshbanks, and was held near Furman.
- In the early days of the Green Valley Race, 5K runners
were ridden out to their start in the backs of trucks and cars from the 10K
start. Bobby Chandler remembered taking off his warm-up pants, getting in a
truck and freezing on the way to this race. “I was lucky I didn’t pull every
muscle in my legs.”
The Greenville Track Club has endowed a scholarship at
Greenville Tech, which will have a community service/ service learning
component. The Track Club has fostered
such meaningful mutually-beneficial relationships throughout the community.