To the casual observer, the gentleman overseeing the finish line of the first Winter Series race for the 2022-2023 season really didn’t have a look to suggest Bucks County Roadrunners Club royalty.
But for those who go back a ways, and we mean a ways, they were well aware there would be no Winter Series – and most likely not even a BCRR – if not for Rich Riggi.
It was way back in 1978 when Riggi, along with local track and cross-country coaches Cliff Robbins and Earl Jeffries, gathered at the Lower Bucks/Fairless Hills YMCA to start a local running club.
Once that idea took hold, a proposed Winter Series at Tyler State Park was not far behind.
What was once a schedule of races drawing around 30 or 40 runners has now evolved into events attracting 300 or 400.
Riggi, a longtime Newtown resident, recently returned to BCRR to volunteer his services and who could say no to an offer like that?
An excellent runner in his day, he and Robbins started their own timing company and handled a number of local races, including the Sesame Place Classic.
So Rich looks right at home when runners come streaming across the finish line timing mat on the path adjacent to Neshaminy Creek.
“When we first talked about the Series at the Y, the goal was to keep people active,’’ said Riggi as the last few runners came across the line at the Covered Bridge 5K on Sunday. “It was a way to cool off and recover from fall training and prepare for spring training.
“Prior to coming to Bucks County, I worked with the Hartford (Ct.) Track Club and that’s where we got the idea. They had an informal winter running series. So I kind of borrowed some of their ideas.’’
The late ‘70s saw the peak of the first American running boom. Here in Bucks County, numerous striders headed to Tyler for its hills, its scenery and its convenient location.
“With the Series, we tried to get everyone involved,’’ Riggi said. “No matter how fast or slow, advanced or beginner. Just keep you active, keep you moving. And before you knew it, it was time for spring.’’
Of course, everything connected with the Series involved volunteer work and that’s a standard which has been maintained to this day.
If you participate in the Series and plan on competing for a year-end award, you must serve as a volunteer for at least one race.
“Part of the Series was help with a race,’’ Riggi said. “Volunteer for a race, learn about a race because when the club could do bigger events, you knew how to work and help a race. That was also part of the club, to be active.
“Some of the people just wanted to run a race, fine, but the purpose of the club was to get involved, be a part of the club.’’
The spirit of that concept lives on today.
“Like if you were injured, you could come down and help,’’ Riggi said. “Then you had some more social camaraderie with everybody.’’
Current Winter Series director John O’Brien appreciates what Riggi brings back in this modern era. Things have gone from timing by popsicle sticks to computers and timing chips.
“He (Riggi) has come back to help out with the Series and with the Thanksgiving race, so it’s been great,’’ O’Brien noted.
Johnny King-Marino, president of BCRR, acknowledges what veteran club members such as Riggi have meant to the club as it approaches nearly a half-century of existence.
“It can’t happen without everyone chipping in,’’ he said. “Every person here who belongs to the club jumps in and helps out – whether they’re making oatmeal or just standing on the corner pointing people in the right direction.’’
Sharon and Skip Schabacker have been participating in the Series for 27 years and they say it’s as much about the social interaction as it is the running.
“We do it for the camaraderie,’’ she said. “It’s about friends, the fresh air. I just met a new runner who came out today and she’s happy she did. This is a wonderful turnout.’’
They can all thank Mr. Riggi and his pals for this wonderful idea. It’s an ongoing testament to what running can mean beyond just putting one foot in front of the other.
Bucks County Roadrunners Club Winter Series Jingle Bell 5.3-Miler, 9 a.m., Tyler State Park, Newtown-Richboro. Contact www.bcrrclub.com