By - Julie Connerley, Staff Reporter ,The Islander
In the spring of 1987, four Pensacola Beach residents and friends who were also runners, decided to meet for weekly training runs. The group agreed to meet at a public place vs. at each others house’s and have conflicts such as illness, vacations, or other commitments making coordinating the training difficult. That way, whoever wanted to, could show up and run. Because of its central location and amenities, Quietwater Beach Boardwalk was chosen. The four runners were soon joined by four more, and then more and more as the word spread from Pensacola Beach to Gulf Breeze, Pensacola, and beyond.
Actually, there was never a plan to start a club – Wednesdays, also known as “hump day” to the working world – was an ideal opportunity to hang out with friends after weekly training runs.
As the group grew, the Island’s weekly paper, The Islander, aptly pegged the group the Wednesday Night Joggers and Social Runners.
By fall, the group, which normally hung out in the Boardwalk’s parking lot after training, decided they needed to move indoors for the post-run socializing. After all, cooler or inclement weather would put a cramp on their fun!
The runners found their way to Capt’n Fun Beach Bar after the then manager offered them their first drink free. Many foot races include free beer, and the phrase “free beer” is practically synonymous with runners, so it was no surprise that Capt’n Fun’s became the group’s unofficial “headquarters.”
The running/social group earned its first name, after a few of the faster runners at the time participated in the annual Turkey Trot as a team. They called themselves the Capt’n Fun Racing Team. Overjoyed with winning their first place team trophy, the group decided to carry the name forward for their weekly get-togethers.
As the group grew, their interest in running expanded to include sponsoring runs and giving back to the running community, as well as contributing to charitable causes. However, the legalese had to be addressed first. It was then that the group incorporated as the Capt’n Fun Runners, Inc., with the purpose of raising monies for the community or various charities.
For more than 25 years, the club has sponsored several events, raising $35,000 for the American Diabetes Association; $50,000 for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life; $15,000 for Those Who Gave All for the 9/11 New York firefighters/police officers; and $73,000 for Big Brothers, Big Sisters . Over those 25 years the club has raised in excess of 190,000 for charity
Besides the Bushwhacker 5k, the Capt’n Fun Runners has coordinated the PENAR 40-miler prior to Hurricane Ivan effectively canceling the run for Arthritis Foundation and raised $5,500 and numerous other fun runs that have benefited the community, such as purchasing wheel chairs for paraplegic athletes, and a special van for club member Bob Davis, whose son, Tom, was paralyzed in a surfing accident.
Capt’n Fun Runners has been the inspiration for many athletes. Through the club, many members participated in their first 5k, 10, ½ marathon, marathon, ultra run and triathlon – always with the support of fellow club members who encouraged and coached them on to the finish line.
Notably, in 1989, club member Kurt Ponchak, was the first blind athlete to participate in a triathlon as an individual. He swam, biked (not a tandem bike) and ran in the Quietwater Beach Tri. Although he finished last, he was still a winner, and became an inspiration to other athletes.
The group has been honored with a number of awards and recognized as volunteers throughout the running community.
Gaining recognition from the business community as well as the sporting community, the Capt’n Fun Runners were asked to co host the 2000 Health Excellence Symposium/Bill Rogers 5k. Rogers, a world-class marathoner, joined the runners for their Wednesday night run and social hour afterwards. In 1993 the club’s Capt’n Fun 5K use chosen as the USAF&L State Championship Run.
The Capt’n Fun Runners have gained a reputation as being “the running club” to party with, and that includes out-of-town races also. From their earliest road trip, the 1988 caravan to Dothan, Alabama for the Hog Wild Run, to the ever-popular New Orleans Crescent City Classic 10K, the group maintains its distinct fun-loving personality.
For the past 25 years, the group has participated in the Crescent City Classic. This year, 100 club members made the trip to run and play all weekend in New Orleans.
The group also organizes special trips, flying as “Fun Air” to participate in runs in Switzerland, Tahoe, Maine, Cancun, the Bahamas, Aruba, Costa Rica, Alaska, Dublin Ireland , Durango Colorado and Key West. For 2008, the group made a Fun Air trip to Panama to run with the Panama City Runners along the canal. For 2009 they headed to Argentina and 2010 to Spain. This fall they headed to Austria for the Tuourdetirol 1/2 and full Marathons up Austrian Hill's
Now numbering over 150 active members, the group has also sparked a walking group, the Jubilee Walkers and a Mardi Gras krewe ‘Krewe de Feet’. Club members still meet between 5:45 and 5:55 Wednesday evenings in front of the flagpoles located in the middle of the Quietwater Boardwalk.
Promptly at 6:00 p.m., walkers and runners take off. The distance and pace varies from three miles to ten miles, depending on the season and training needs. Afterwards, you will always find the group hanging out at the Capt’n Fun Beach Bar for post refreshments and socializing.
The Portofino (Quietwater) Boardwalk is located in the business core of Pensacola Beach at the Island’s only traffic light.