Endurance Plaza to immortalize athletes

Some say theme too narrow, does not represent Auburn
By: Jon Brines Journal Correspondent
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Training for marathons takes average Joes to the limit. But for Auburn’s community of endurance athletes, the super-human ultra-marathons of the Western States 100 Mile Run and Tevis Cup Ride are the ultimate test. “There have been times I felt so bad that I would be jogging along and I’d have to stop and squat and curl up into a ball and wait until I had the strength to go on,” said the run’s founder Gordy Ainsleigh. “There was an ecstasy involved in asking my body to perform like that and having it say, ‘yes.’” Now average Joes, tourists and the athletes’ families will be able to marvel at the history of the endurance sports that grew from Auburn at Endurance Plaza, the centerpiece of the city’s $2.2 million first phase of the Streetscape project at the corner of Lincoln Way and High Street. In December, about two-dozen founders of the Western States 100 Mile Run and the Tevis Cup 100 Mile Endurance Ride will be honored with their names carved on granite pavers and placed at the center of the plaza. Three community art pedestals will also be available for approved artwork. “It was designed by the community,” said Auburn City Manager Bob Richardson. “This first phase project takes a very confusing five-way intersection to a very simple four-way intersection. It creates what is going to be a stunning shopping area and outdoor dining plaza. It will create a real heart and center for Auburn.” At a public meeting scheduled for Tuesday, the city’s Endurance Capital Committee will finalize the design and selection criteria for future names to be immortalized in the city’s square. “It will include the history of endurance as well as a tribute to the top athletes currently and into the future,” Richardson said. The Tevis Cup was started in 1955 by the late Wendell Robie and the 100 mile run was initiated by Ainsleigh in 1974. Since that time hundreds of volunteers over decades have made them a world-renowned events that are uniquely Auburn. Shannon Weil, the vice president of the Western States Run, said the selection process for those to be honored has been difficult. “Some people aren’t going to make the cut,” Weil said. “We’ve been working very diligently. It’s been hard.” The city has designated 100 locations for pavers designed for the walk of fame with more to be added later. The walk of fame will only include the individuals, organizations and events that grew from the two ultra-endurance sports, according to the committee. Western States and Tevis were the first of their kind and prompted similar events around the world, Weil said. “People started moving here because of the Western States ultra marathon and the trails,” she said. Not everyone is thrilled with the all-endurance plaza theme. For some, like Auburn resident Teresa Kenworthy, the idea behind the walk of fame is too narrow. “I do endurance sports too,” Kenworthy said. “I like the idea of having a square where people can come together but I don’t think it should be about a select group of people. The river attracts equestrians, cyclists, hikers, gold panners, bird watchers, campers, fishermen and river rafters. The river is the lifeblood of the community and it never gets the recognition.” According to Richardson, while the design of the plaza is focused on endurance, the city plans to form another committee within 90 days to focus on a larger design that will go the length of the mile-long project. “Once we get this phase done we’re actually going to set a new committee together, folks interested in Auburn history and historians to help put together a history walk,” said Richardson. “When you walk the length of it you should get the whole history.” Richardson said how that story will be told will be up to the new history walk committee members with the City Council having the final approval. Ainsleigh, who has finished the run 21 times, said there is a lot for people to discover about ultra -ndurance sports and devoting a plaza to its Auburn history is necessary. “I think it is good for the average person to be exposed to the extraordinary,” Ainsleigh said. Ainsleigh, who now serves on the Endurance Capital Committee, is expected to be one of first to be inducted in December during the unveiling. “I don’t feel humble or exalted,” he said. “It’s just accurate. I want no more or less credit than I deserve.” Richardson said the design of the pavers and the walk of fame selection process has not been finalized by the committee or approved by City Council. That could come as early as Aug. 24.