One of original runners in Peachtree Road Race runs it still, with his own family, now

4:14 PM, Jul 13, 2012   |    comments
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  • Brian Gamel

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. (July 4, 2012) -- Remember where the Sears used to be, on Peachtree in Buckhead?

"It started right in front of the Sears in Buckhead."

Brian Gamel, sitting in his home in Johns Creek, speaks of how the original starting line for first AJC Peachtree Road Race, on July 4th, 1970, was where the Sears used to be, at Peachtree and West Paces Ferry.

He remembers where the Sears and the starting line were, because he was there.

He was nine years old.

"When they mentioned having a race on the Fourth of July, as a nine year old kid I thought it seemed kind of crazy, at first, because it's a holiday."

Brian smiles as he recalls the "crazy" idea that quickly became a phenomenon and a personal and family tradition.

He was there on that holiday 42 years ago, with his father and brother running with him.

He was there, running the Peachtree year after year, as he was growing up, going to college, raising a family.

Brian Gamel, one of the Peachtree's original 110 runners, has run every Peachtree but two.

He is determined never to miss another.

Now, he runs it with his wife, Mimi, and his 19 year old son Will.

They run every Peachtree with him, joyously, together.

"It's just a family event."

Brian's nose reminds him of one feature of that first Peachtree.

"I remember running up the hills, very, very hot, and... a city bus pulled up right beside me. And when it started off with the exhaust I remember, 'Gee, this is kind of crazy.'"

Peachtree was open to vehicular traffic during that first race.

"They did not block the roads. There was no reason, back then, to stop the traffic" for 110 people spread across 6.2 miles.

Now Peachtree is closed for hours on the Fourth, to make room for nearly 60,000 runners.

Mimi Gamel would just watch the runners, at first. But eventually, "I wanted to be one of them."

Now she is, every year.

"It's a family tradition. And, you know, family's all about traditions. And this is a healthy one."

Will Gamel thought a long time about running it. And then, "Last year [2011] I finally did it, and I'm glad I did."

He works out with his dad whenever he's home from college. "He's in great shape and he kind of motivates me to stay in good shape. I'll definitely stick with it every year I'm able to run. I will."

"This is like a benchmark for me," Brian said. "Every year I need to be in shape to run the Peachtree. So I've kind of got into the habit of staying in pretty good shape all year, and then making sure that I'm in shape for the race. So it really has been a tradition."

One of the two Peachtrees he missed was because he had to be out of town on business. The other was because he was getting married.

He can't imagine anything else keeping him and his family away, ever again.

"Many years, I could have been doing something else the morning of the Fourth, but I choose to be at the Peachtree. It brings us together as a family."

Brian's mother has a snapshot of him finishing the first Peachtree, in 1970 -- where the finish line used to be, in downtown Atlanta.

"You're seeing a little nine year old kid who was very happy to have made the six miles, you know. But we were in such good shape, seriously, it wasn't that hard to run six miles, back then. I think as we get older, six miles is a bit longer."

How long is it for him, now? Brian smiles again and laughs.

"It depends. It's not too bad. I mean, I still do pretty well. And it's just that I'm proud that my wife does it and my son does it, and as long as I can continue, I'll continue to run."

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