By Karen Lozano
While some families might debate the age old question “What came first, the chicken or the egg?, the Lopes household would most likely take a different approach. Thomas Lopes would whip that chicken and egg up into something delicious to eat, and Gina Lopes would turn the feathers and shells into an artful masterpiece.
Thomas, who this month completes his year as president of the ShadowChase Running Club, has a passion for food that he has turned into his livelihood as owner of Fuzio Universal Bistro. His wife Gina, who is completing the first year of her two-year stint as Social Director of the running club, is legendary for her crafty pursuits and she shares a passion of mixing up deliciousness, not in the kitchen but behind the Fuzio bar. They also share a passion for ShadowChase, being active, running, and giving back to their community.
“I’ve been a member of ShadowChase for six years now and been inspired by how much they have given to me and the community,” said Thomas. “Maybe it’s cliché to say, but running and the club has really changed my life. Healthy bodies promote healthy minds, and in my case it has really helped me be the best I can be.”
Lopes began his ShadowChase leadership as a member-at-large director, and he coached students in the Teens Run Modesto program for two years.
“Through that experience I decided I could offer more, becoming vice president and now president of this great running club in our community,” he said.
“My experience has given me proper perspective on what we as a group are capable of and how we can change people’s lives, not just physically, but mentally as well. I’m a firm believer that this sport doesn’t have to be an individual sport to be satisfying if you don’t want it to be. Sharing what you have learned to help someone else become successful is equally as rewarding.
“ShadowChase is really my extended family, and even when my term on the board is over I will always be close by,” he said.
Gina explained how she got her start on the ShadowChase board. “This is my first year as social director — in January it will have been a year. I decided to be a part of the board because my wonderful husband nominated me,” she giggled. “I guess it was my creative abilities that he wanted to share with the board and with our club.
“I enjoy putting on social events for people,” she continued. “I enjoy seeing people gather to run together and be in a close family like environment. I like that this year I’ve been able to simplify things a bit and get back to the main purpose of our social events …. RUNNING!”
Thomas began his career as a busboy and worked his way into the kitchen via dishwashing. He actually turned down the natural progression to food server to be in the kitchen. At age 23 he became general manager of Chevys Fresh Mex where he stayed for 13 years.
“Then the opportunity came about with Fuzio Universal Bistro in 1999, it seemed like a perfect fit. I could still manage the operations, but also keep my culinary inspirations flowing. The reality is I just love the art of food, the creativity, and obviously eating it! Fourteen years later I was able to find a trusted business partner and purchase the restaurant, becoming an owner of something I hold special.”
Working side-by-side with Gina, the Lopes have turned Fuzio into a sort of home base for many local runners, and have been named the first Road Runners Club of America’s “Runner Friendly Business” in Modesto. The national program recognizes businesses that support local runners. The Lopes give generously of their time and services, donating to numerous local events including the Modesto Marathon, Movie & Wine Night and the Teens Run Modesto programs, all under the umbrella of ShadowChase.
Said Gina, “When people in the community come to us for help we really put a lot of effort wherever and whenever we can and I think that has made a huge impact.”
Both Thomas and Gina said they always tried to stay physically active throughout their lives, but they didn’t discover running until late in their adult lives.
After that he began running marathons and then the Ragnar Relay with ShadowChase members, where he got “my first real glimpse of what the running club and community was about. I soon started running with my soon to be wife Gina and started hitting trail runs and continued running more marathons.”
In 2013, Thomas ran his first trail race, the Fourmidable.
“It was a 32-mile ultra marathon and I thought what the heck, it’s just six more miles than the normal 26.2 marathon. It was an experience, we got lost and added about three extra miles. I thought my legs were going to implode, but I finished.
“As runners, one thing I learned is we embrace the pain and understand its personal and physical benefits later on,” he said.
Thomas then volunteered at the ShadowChase sponsored aid station at the famed Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run.
“I watched runners at the brink of breaking still trotting through the aid station at mile 93 determined as hell to finish,” he said. “All I could think was ‘I want to be that, and do what they are doing.’ I embraced this experience and finished my first 100 mile race in at the Javelina Jundred three months later. Two months after that I participated in the Western States lottery and was drawn to run the 2014 race which I completed in 28 hours 55 minutes. It was and still is the highlight of all my running experiences.
“My son Matthew met me at our aid station at mile 93, prepared to run the last seven miles to the finish. I remember telling him I could walk and still finish the race from here as I was completly exhausted and physically in bad shape, limping by this time. He looked at me puzzled, then said to me, ‘Dad, you are going to finish this race like that?’ I pushed back a few tears and started running, finishing the race like he expected me to, making him proud. Not only did I become one of the people I was inspired by, I was crewed and paced by my wife and members of our running club. I will never forget that year.”
Gina said she started really running in 2010. The Modesto Midnight Half Marathon was her first race.
“It was a super fun run. I remember being so nervous and barley being able to eat anything that day before the race because of all the butterflies that were in my stomach. After I accomplished that race it wasn’t too long after that I did my first full marathon in July 2011, The San Francisco Marathon. I was hooked, running was what made me happy every day, made me feel good about myself and about other things in life, so from there on it was finish one and sign up for another…. we all know how that goes.”
Gina is also an accomplished ultra marathoner, completing 50Ks, and attempting a 110K last year, completing about 55 miles of the adventure.
‘I have made a lot of lifelong friends through ShadowChase and through running, and that alone is something that has impacted my life forever. ‘
“I enjoy doing a mix of races, all distances, and in all places. I would eventually like to do a new race in a new place every year because I love to travel so why not do two great things in one trip. … I say I’d like to do each distance ONCE just to say I did it and, unlike my amazing husband, I really can’t ever imagine doing more than ONE 100-mile race.”
Thomas’ future includes “relieving some of my current responsibilities so I can spend more time with family.” He has signed up for his first Ironman next year, and his name is in the hat at the Western States lottery once again.
Gina summed up their ShadowChase running journey.
“Being a part of Shadowchase has been amazing, I have met so many wonderful people who have shared … about all kinds of things that have influenced my life. I love that I could go on a run in the park any day of the week and I will see at least one familiar face. It’s comforting to know there are so many people out there with you and it’s nice to see what other people are training for and to be inspired.
“I have made a lot of lifelong friends through Shadowchase and through running, and that alone is something that has impacted my life forever. I consider our local running clubs to be some of the best in the world; we have so many members of all walks of life and it is truly something that we should cherish and be excited about. I’m excited to see what we can do with our future.”
If you’d like to see someone featured in the Volunteer Spotlight, please write to Karen Lozano at firstname.lastname@example.org.