The POW Marathon: An Early History - P.O.W. Report

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The POW Marathon: An Early History

By Gretchen Klein and Arthur Martin

The 20th Anniversary Prince of Wales Marathon is coming up on May 25th, 2019 and in this last article having celebrated the many runners and participants throughout the years we would like to highlight the history of this great Alaskan sporting event.

A long time ago…in 1998…before the age of the internet and Russia Collusion and Global Warming and gender pronouns, Prince of Wales Island, was a simple place. Boasting of being the third largest island in the United States, home to a dozen communities, a population of a bit over 5,000 Alaskan souls and a diverse array of outdoor activities. What “POW” (as it’s affectionately called) didn’t have was a yearly event to bring the many communities together under one banner. It was in the fall of 1998 that Dave Johnson and a group of residents decided to plan what would become the Annual Prince of Wales International Marathon.

Marathon Committee taken in 2004

Dave along with Sheila Beardsley, Mary Pierce, Tammy Demmert, Cheryl Fecko, Wes Craske, Verne and Skip Fabry, Mark Beardsley, Mike Cleary, Chuck Haydu, Aaron and KK Prussian, Herve Ibarra and Doug Rhodes” would meet in Tammy’s sandwich and ice-cream shop called “TK’s” and occasionally at Shelter Cove to hammer out details.

At a time when you couldn’t simply Google, “How to Start a Marathon” the group was fortunate that Dave had experience setting up a marathon in Minnesota where he lived before moving to POW and work for the Forrest Service.

Mary recalls, “My most vivid memory is sitting in a meeting of community leaders and business people when Dave gave his pitch about putting on the marathon for the first time. He sent a sign-up sheet around for anyone interested in helping and when it got to me, it already had my name on and I recognized Dave’s handwriting! Thank goodness there were some like Dave who knew more about putting on a marathon and what we needed to do to get started!”

Herve Ibarra showing Olympic Marathoner and
 guest speaker Priscilla Welch how to use the shotgun to start the race

Speaking with Doug Rhodes, who was the Race Director for the first 10 years, “the members originally knew that they wanted the race to end at the Craig Ball Park and worked backwards from there for where the starting point would be.”

They worked quick and had the track certified with the starting line out-towards Hollis, with a small loop that went around the Klawock Harbor—since then the track was been re-certified twice.

One of the many famous quirks about the POW Marathon is that a shotgun was used to start the races. According to Doug, the inaugural race in 2000 actually had a starting pistol, however, the following year nobody could find the gun, which went missing at the last minute, so Rhodes took his own personal shotgun to the race—which was used for 9 years.

“The first couple of years ‘bird shot may or may not have been used’ [for legal purposes] and then blanks where used from there. A tradition that developed for these early years is that the Marathon guest speakers would shoot the gun signaling the start of each race.” Coincidentally, this year’s speaker will be Dave Johnson’s son Reverend Jered Weber-Johnson.

Al Givins riding in front of the race leader during the early years
of the marathon
Another fun fact; due to the first few years of the Marathon being on a shoe string budget, they couldn’t spend too much money on restrooms, so, one of the rules as Doug recalls were, “restrooms for boys was on the right side of the highway and on the left hand side for girls.”

As we have highlighted in our previous articles of memorable participants and events, Doug Rhodes also recalls one such event from the first marathon involving Shaun Williams:

“Shaun, was running the whole marathon and while running past Harris River bridge, about 6 miles in, he blew out the sole of one of his shoes and Troy Thain (a teacher at the Craig Schools) was driving by so Shaun hollered, ‘Troy you still wear size 12?’ Which he did, so Troy took his tennis shoes off and they say you shouldn’t judge a man till you walk a mile in his shoes, well, Shaun finished the last 20 miles in someone else’s shoes.”

We are celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Marathon and it has been a resounding success and maybe with new leadership and hard work, as Wes Craske suggested, "perhaps the Prince of Wales Marathon can expand and become even bigger and better than it already is."

Thank you for reading about the early days of this marathon and we hope that you join us for this special event May 25th!

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