McCook new 'Little Boston'?
In this town of many nicknames, here's another one to consider: "Little Boston."
McCook's hills - most prominently beginning with the upward slant of Norris Avenue - is one of the reasons "Little Boston" fits, but even more important - through the years - is McCook's reputation for running excellence, including the success of the track and field and cross country teams at McCook High School and McCook Junior College.
Gradually - though - the thing that has thrust McCook and the Republican River Valley into the running, and marathon, spotlight is the popularity of running, walking, 5 K's and marathons as a pastime for a growing number of the community's and area's citizens.
Now taking organized shape, a running club - the Republican River Runners - has been formed, with a nine-member board of directors planning activities and events.
"Interest in running has gone up and down over the years," said Stacy Priebe, the president of the Republican River Runners Club. "We have 40 members in the running club, and I would estimate there are more than 75 people in our community who run on a regular basis."
The Run for U.V., sponsored by McCook's eye clinics earlier this year, sparked interest, and plans are taking shape for more events, including a trip to the State Fair in Grand Island this summer to compete in 5-K, half-marathon and marathon events.
One of McCook's veteran marathoners, Troy Swartz, couldn't be more pleased with the upsurge in running interest.
Like Priebe, who is the son of a high school cross country coach, running has had a special place in Swartz's life since childhood.
"Encouraged by a teacher, I discovered the value of running when I was a grade school student at District 8 south of town," Troy said. His running interest continued in high school, where Troy was a member of the Bison cross country team for four years, including the team's participation in his senior year in the state cross country meet.
Following his graduation from MHS in 1987, Troy took a few years off before returning to running on a regular basis. His wake up call came when he took a physical at work that revealed his blood pressure was on the high side. Troy, who works in the receiving department at Parker Hannifin, turned to what he knew best, running, and, soon was not only running but training diligently for long distance races.
In the years since then, he has become one of the town's leading marathoners, competing in long distance events in Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, South Dakota and Massachusetts over the past 14 years.
The highlight of his running career has been competing in four Boston Marathons, the world's oldest and best-known running event. He has not only ran the Boston Marathon himself four times - in 2007, 2009, 2015 and 2016 - he has also attended in other years to cheer on other competitors from McCook.
"That was one of my biggest thrills," Troy said. "I was at the finish line when Ray Chmiel of McCook finished, and the chants of 'USA!, USA!, USA!' sent chills up and down my spine."
Little things do mean a lot, especially when they are right on the mark. Another special moment for Troy came in his first Boston Marathon, in 2009, when he passed a large family all holding Dixie cups with water for the runners, By chance, Troy grabbed the cup of the tiniest family member, a boy of about 4. "He took mine," the boy yelled, so proudly, leaving Troy with a life-long cherished memory.
On behalf of runners everywhere, most especially the Republican River Runners Club, Troy invites the people of the town and area to give running a try. "There are so many good places to run around here," he said. "The running trail, the sidewalks of McCook, the country roads around town and the highway shoulder between here and Culbertson are all great places. Just be careful. Wear bright clothing and be sure you have good running shoes," he said, adding: "And, for safety, it is better to run against traffic whenever possible."
Is McCook a Little Boston? At this point, that might be quite a stretch, but thanks to runners like Troy Swartz, Ray Chmiel, Rob Stamm, Stacy Priebe and others, McCook is building a running reputation of its own. You're welcome to join the growing group who run for health and the personal satisfaction of self-improvement. To find out more, you're invited to go to: republicanriverrunners.com website.
If you are new to running, Troy has a word of advice: "Don't be discouraged if you don't immediately meet your goals. Walk a block. Jog a block. Just stick with it. As is true in most things in life, perseverance pays in running."