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Running by Budd Bailey: Murzynowski made non-stop run to Hall

Jackie Murzynowski has been associated with running for decades.

“I started back in sixth grade with a little race,” she said. “Then I went through middle school, high school and college. It’s always been part of my life.”

Now she’ll always be part of the sport locally. Murzynowski was inducted on Friday night into the Western New York Running Hall of Fame.

She was selected along with the late Mike Diggins, Richard Sullivan, the late Henry Sypniewski and Mary Wittenberg.

It didn’t take very long for Murzynowski to figure out that she had a chance to be a decent runner. The initial sign came in seventh grade.

“It was in an 800-meter race. I did a JV race, and we were set behind the varsity runners,” Murzynowski said. “I finished second overall in 2:32. There were 30 or 40 girls in the race.

“My father had wanted me to get involved in a sport, and he threatened to put me on the bowling team. I stink at bowling, so I stayed after school and ran.”

She was a standout during her career at Frontier High School in Hamburg, graduating in 1985. While there were plenty of opportunities there for women to run at that point, it still wasn’t that common for women to run for long distances. After all, the women’s marathon came to the Olympics only a year before her graduation.

Murzynowski’s excellent performance as a high school runner attracted some attention; Murray State came calling with an offer of a full scholarship.

“Someone noticed me,” she said about the Kentucky university. “A girl I graduated with was there. She did the high jump/long jump. I thought at first, Kentucky? But I loved the team, loved the campus. It’s beautiful down there. They offered me a full scholarship.

“Back then, there were hardly any scholarships for female athletes. I talk to athletes now, and there are a lot of scholarships out there. ... College isn’t cheap. It was nice to get one.”

Murzynowski was an All-American at both track and cross-country at Murray State. The Racers are a member of the Ohio Valley Conference.

“When I graduated, I went for a run with my dad on graduation day,” she said. “When we finished, I said, ‘I’m done. I’m not doing another step.’

“Well, that lasted two weeks.”

Murzynowski landed a job with M&T Bank in this area after graduation, but kept running for fun. She says she was always a little nervous before a race, even though she overcame that fear when the gun went off. Murzynowski picked up a little spending money along the way.

“I worked full time but ran races on weekends or nights,” she said. “I remember one race in which I won 500 dollars. It was 8 kilometers, and I ran it in 27 minutes. I figured how much money that was per minute and thought, ‘That’s pretty good.’ ”

Murzynowski’s most impressive work probably came at the Corporate Challenge. She won eight championships there, an impressive achievement by any standard. Murzynowski still has those trophies ... and their containers.

“It’s so funny,” she said. “I used to throw out the blue boxes they came in, and I got yelled at. My friends would say, ‘It’s a Tiffany’s box!’ So I still have the blue boxes.”

Eventually, Murzynowski took a teaching job back where she started - in the Frontier School District. She eventually worked her way into coaching, as she guides the varsity in cross country and the modified outdoor track program at the middle school.

She’s happy to be in her old school, and happy about another development in her life – she’s running regularly again after a long break.

“I’m doing four days a week,” Murzynowski said. “I try to change it up. You get stale in the same routine. This summer I’ve been going to different places. I want to increase my mileage. I want to do well in the Turkey Trot this year.”

A good performance would already add to a resume that is one of the best in Western New York history and worthy of Hall of Fame induction.

“It is absolutely awesome,” she said about joining the area’s best runners. “When Vicki Mitchell called to tell me, I was ecstatic. I could not believe it. What an honor.”

Race calendar

• The Biggest Loser Half Marathon/5K, Canalside in Buffalo, 8 a.m. today.

• Dan Feather Memorial 5K, Bergman Park in Jamestown, 9:30 a.m. today, 488-2203 x221.

• Dirty Bit Trail Run/Dirty Duathlon, 4 miles, Holiday Valley in Ellicottville, 10 a.m. today, 574-0888.

• Harvest Moon Run, 5K, 7340 Campbell Blvd. in Pendleton, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, 694-5582.

• Peach Festival, 493 Center St. in Lewiston, 9 a.m. Saturday, 297-5831.

• Derby Fair 5K, 7431 Erie Road in Derby, 10 a.m. Saturday, 947-0945.

• Domstock 5K, 4321 Bolton Road in Gasport, 3 p.m. Saturday, 572-3888.

• Headway Walk, Run & Wheel 5K, The Hatch in Buffalo, 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 7, 408-3117.

• Dash for Diversity 9K Relay, Delaware Park in Buffalo, 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 7, 417-4331.