By Karen Lozano
Just as the race she directs has grown and evolved into a precious classic, so too has ShadowChase Running Club’s Barbara Miller.
“I am really proud of the growth of the Modesto Memorial Classic,” said the race director of the May ShadowChase-sponsored event. “We had 650-plus runners and walkers this year!
“I am very passionate about the Classic. It actually is the oldest running/walking event in Modesto. It started sometime in the mid ‘80s,” she explained.
The name of the race has changed several times since, as has its location. Miller said she and longtime ShadowChase member Al Miller (no relation) were the original race directors. It was held in Tuolumne River Regional Park as part of The Modesto Ala Carte Festival. It moved downtown to become part of the Graffiti Run Festival, eventually moving back to the park and changing names. This year, the event’s start line was moved to Johansen High School.
Miller is probably most proud about The Vet Center becoming the race’s charity. That came about after a recommendation from local veteran Brandon Hunt, who had just returned from Iraq.
“I really enjoy working with these men and women,” she said. The center works with vets returning from active duty who are suffering with posttraumatic stress disorder.
“Our event provides the major share of funding for outside activities for The Vet Center. Those suffering from PTSD tend to isolate from others. We try to help their healing by encouraging them to get out and about in the community,” said Miller.
Though often confused, The Vet Center is not affiliated with The Stanislaus Veterans Center and The VA Clinic.
Perhaps Miller finds her empathy with vets because of the burdens life has handed her.
“My first husband, Len, died of a heart attack while golfing at The Oakdale Country Club. He was 57 years old,” she explained.
“Five years later, I formally met my second husband, Doug Braasch, at the Carlsbad 5K in 2000. Doug was a very good runner so we kind of knew each other through our running travels.” Miller explained that Braasch lived in Peoria, IL, but came to Modesto to visit her, and eventually stayed.
“For 10 years we enjoyed great times together traveling, competing in races all over the U.S., and even in Australia. A few days after we had competed in the Humbolt Half Marathon, Doug had a heart attack near the bridge going into Kewin Park (next to East La Loma Park). He died after he was taken off life support 10 days later.”
Newer club members may not realize that the rock bearing Braasch’s name near the playground in East La Loma Park came from Peoria. ShadowChasers Heidi Ryan and Mike Araiza along with Miller picked it up and drove it to its current home.
“Modesto Parks and Recreation installed it for us,” Miller explained. “ShadowChase Running Club and The Illinois Valley Striders funded it. The monument rests not far from where Braasch and Miller shared their home near the park.
“I will always be grateful to our ShadowChase members, The Illinois Valley Striders Modesto Parks and Recreation for their kindness and caring during these hard times,” she says.
Miller did not start running until she was in her 40s, and since she is reluctant to talk about her past successes, some may be surprised to discover just how accomplished she has been.
“I joined ShadowChase sometime around 1983 or 1984 shortly after I started running,” she said. “I have always been active in sports. … My son and I biked long distance cross country and on camping rides. Then he moved away to go to college so I was looking for something new to do. Running became my new sport. I soon became very competitive in it.”
A very versatile runner, Miller has age group records in the 5K, 8K, 10K, 12K, 10-Mile, and 20K, as well as the half and full marathons.
“I believe most have been broken,” she says modestly. “I still hold the course record (60-69) for the Boston Marathon.” Yes, THE Boston Marathon. “My time was 3:11:57. The great part about Boston was it felt so easy. That was really my day. I broke the old record by over 10 minutes!”
In addition, Miller said she has received the national USATF “Outstanding Athlete Award” for her age group 10 times. She was named Women’s Master Runner of the Year for Runners World magazine in 2000, she is in the USATF Masters Hall of Fame, as well as the Pacific Association of USA Track and Field Hall of Fame.
“I have numerous awards, both national and local, which become even sweeter to remember as I get older, but I will stop here,” she says. ShadowChasers will probably remember she received the club’s most prestigious honor, the Charlie Johnson Lifetime Achievement award, in 2016, as well as Most Inspirational Runner twice, and Female Runner of the Year in 2008.
After a major injury, Miller says she competes at shorter distances “now and then, but not in the old competitive way. I know how much training it takes to get to a high level. I am just enjoying running with my friends at this time.”
Some of that extra time on her hands most definitely goes into her volunteer work.
“I am also very proud to be a part of The Spirit of Giving 5K. Mike Araiza and I are the founders of it. It has become a colorful, fun, must-do holiday run,” she said. “It benefits The Gospel Mission and City of Modesto Sports and Art programs for low income children and adults.”
Miller says that volunteering is just something she should do to help our community.
“It is a good feeling to know I am making a difference. I volunteer as often as I can for ShadowChase functions. I generally do whatever is asked to help out.”
She adds, “I am really proud of our ShadowChase Running Club. We are very supportive of everyone’s accomplishments; such a great group of people!”