Charlene Brinkman was inducted into the New Orleans Track Club Hall of Fame on Saturday morning, but she found herself in a more familiar position earlier that day — underneath the volunteer check-in tent assisting runners.
Brinkman, who began running NOTC races in the 1980s, has held just about every board position imaginable since then; including a stint as board president from 2002-04. So it wasn’t too surprising that before she received her accolades, she was busy handing out gym bags to pre-registered racers, and answering questions such as how to find a physical therapist in town.
The work is a labor of love for Brinkman.
“These people are like family,” she said.
The NOTC family welcomed five new members to its Hall of Fame following the club’s 51st Anniversary Race, which was held Saturday at the City Park Festival Grounds. About 500 runners took part 3-mile and half–mile runs, and most stayed to pay tribute to the quintet who has helped make the club what it is today — a unit of more than 2,000 runners that collectively stages more than 30 races each year in the New Orleans area.
Joining Brinkman in the second Hall of Fame class are husband Don Brinkman; as well as George Owen and Mayo “Mo” Emory. Elisabeth Van Battum also was inducted posthumously.
The anniversary race is not the NOTC’s largest — not by a long shot. But it may be its most important, said current club president Don Quintana.
“We do a lot of things in this race that are different from our other races,” he said. “We have the four, $1,000 scholarships we give away, and for the second year, we’re naming some really exceptional people to the Hall of Fame.
“The club is remembering the past, but laying the groundwork for the future and the next 50 years of running in New Orleans.”
Owen has been with the NOTC since the start. One of two living lifetime members (along with Emory,) Owen has been a cornerstone of the local running community for more than five decades. As such, he’s seen the myriad of changes that have taken place in the sport.
“Well, the entry fees have changed, and there are a lot more tents out here than before,” Owen, who opened Southern Runner in 1982, said. “I’ve been doing this a long time. It’s always fun when you basically can take your hobby and turn it into your business. You meet a lot of people who you stay friends with for life.”
One of those friends is Don Brinkman, who also has held many positions on the NOTC board since he became a member in 1983.
“We’re all concerned with the well-being of others out here,” Don Brinkman said. “I see a younger group of people out here taking over the sport we love. Unfortunately, I can’t run anymore, but I’m still out here supporting them. I’ve been a member for more than 30 years, but I’m just six months shy of being a volunteer for 30 years and (that’s just as important.)”
Emory also has filled critical volunteer roles with the NOTC. As well as being a longtime board member, he is past chairman of the Mardi Gras Marathon and has been an NOTC race director. Van Battum became a club member in the mid-1970s and dominated the masters racing scene locally and nationally. She also was a dedicated NOTC volunteer in her later years.
Bridging the gap between the past and present on Saturday was Ian Carr; a 24-year-old who won the anniversary race for the second consecutive year. His time of 15 minutes, 42 seconds in the 3-mile race easily outpaced Nick Accardo, who finished second in 16:19. DC Lipani placed third in 16:38.
“There were all kinds of good runners in this race,” Carr said. “It’s nice to see the folks who helped start the club be here with the guys who are running good times now.”
Chaiss Mathews led the women’s field with a time of 18:55. Laura Aleman (19:14) was second and Lauren Ybavzabal (20:37) placed third.