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Running has been a shattering experience for Hall of Famer Nowicki

Jim Nowicki still remembers his first race. He wasn't the race director; he simply was a runner back in the late 1970s.

"My friend Terry Connors called me, and said, 'We're running a 5K today.' I said, 'What?' " Nowicki said. "It was the Locker Room 5K, and I lived right down the street. I met his group, and we ran the 5K. I was able to run it, and I felt pretty good afterwards.

"When I came back after the race, someone broke into my car. My back window was smashed. I remember collecting all of the glass. I glued some of it back together, and gave the piece to Terry."

That day started a long association with running that will be climaxed on Sept. 1, when Nowicki is formally inducted into the Western New York Running Hall of Fame. He'll go in with Sue Schaefer Morgan and Alex Trammell, two top runners.

Nowicki used to run laps at Buffalo State College to stay in shape for another of his passions, basketball refereeing. One day he started talking to a woman who also worked out on the track whose name is now Phyllis Carrier. She convinced him to run some races with her.

Then Nowicki took the next step.

"Enter the Casey's Nickelodeon," he said. "When we would go to races, they wouldn't start on time. I had a good background in organizing. I had done some softball tournaments. We decided to put a race together. We talked to Emery Fisher, to pick his brain on what to do. We put together the Casey's Nickelodeon Four-Mile Chase in 1981. People liked it. I never thought we'd do it again. It was the same route as the Subaru race today, more or less. The start and finish lines have been moved about 40 yards."

The second annual race went off fine a year later, and then Nowicki threw himself into a new personal project almost by accident.

"Terry Connors called me and said, 'You're running the New York City Marathon in November. I've got a number and I can't run it,' " he said. "He told me this in late August or early September of 1982. I knew you had to do miles of running and build up endurance.

"I ran with his friends. It was a great experience. I ran it in about four hours, so I can say I have a marathon under my belt."

The four-mile race picked up a title sponsor in 1982 in Black Tower wine, and that business relationship lasted through 1985. That was the first year that the race offered prize money - a total of $1,000. It was a unique concept in Buffalo running, and it came at a time when races around the country were just starting to pay the runners.

"I could never get Nancy Mieszczak, Jennifer Colgrove-Martin and Ralph Zimmerman," Nowicki said about the area's best long-distance runners. "They would go out of town to run for money. I said, why don't we have prize money?"

The 1985 race was Black Tower's last as a sponsor; it tried to drop out with nine days notice, although the involved parties figured out a way to stage the event together one last time. Nowicki soon heard through a friend that Subaru was looking to sponsor a community event. Negotiations took no time at all, and the two sides started an association that lasts to this day.

Then came a step that raised the level of competition for the race.

"Enter Mark Finucane," Nowicki said, referring to another local Hall of Famer. "It was tough to get him to come here, but I told him what I wanted to do. He opened the door for Craig Virgin, and he was a different animal - a three-time Olympian. I had to pay him a small appearance fee, but that's what really turned the race around."

The parade of top runners continues to this day. A highlight was when John Campbell broke a world record for a masters runner at the four-mile distance in 1990.

Fast forward a few decades, and Nowicki's "one-year project" will stage its 37th running next month. The race has raised money for the Police Athletic League and the Erie County Medical Center. Nowicki is still a familiar face at other races in the area, handing out entry forms and generally being visible. At this point, he's a frequent source of information for others about how to put on a race.

"Shea's asked me to come in and critique what they do," Nowicki said. "I give the Buffalo Marathon my two cents. I think I'm part of many communities, but I've really enjoyed the friends I've made in the running community. It's just great to go talk about races."

The Western New York Running Hall of Fame has inducted plenty of runners, but it's a little more difficult to make an impact without lacing up the sneakers. Nowicki has done that in his nearly four-decade association with the sport.

"You realize you are getting a little older," he said about the honor. "But the most important thing is that I've just been admitted to an exclusive group. There are certain clubs that you just can't walk into and join.

"Contributor is a very difficult category. I know that the people who run are champions. I also know that without the volunteers and the sponsors, I don't get into the Hall of Fame. So I'm humbled."

Race calendar

* Girls on the Run 5K, Alumni Arena on the University at Buffalo campus, Amherst, 9:30 a.m. Sunday June 4, 645-6815.

* Dirt Devil Trail Series, 3 mile trail run, Sprague Brook Park,  Glenwood, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday June 6, 574-0888.

* The Grace Race, 5K, 39 Academy St., Williamsville, 7 p.m. Tuesday June 6, 908-4413.

* Superhero Race, 5K, St. George's Church (Delaware Park), Buffalo, 6:30 p.m. Friday June 9, 883-3331.

* Mount Mercy Academy 5K, 88 Red Jacket Parkway in Buffalo, 6:30 p.m. Friday June 9, 713-5654.

* Albion Strawberry Festival, 5K and 8K, Orleans County Courthouse, Albion, 8 a.m. Saturday June 10, (585) 590-0955.

* Susan G. Komen WNY Race for the Cure, 5K, 359 Ganson St, Buffalo, 10 a.m. Saturday June 10, 887-2643.

* Baylee's Memorial 5K, 1000 Brant-Farnham Road, Irving, 5:30 p.m. Saturday June 10, 796-8031.

* Lew-Port 5K Glow Run, Lewiston-Porter High School, Youngstown, 9:30 p.m. Saturday June 10.

* FG Memorial 5K, Lake Erie Beach Volunteer Fire Department, Angola, 10:15 a.m. Sunday June 11, 549-8457.

* Erie County 4-H 5K Run, Como Park, Lancaster, 10:30 a.m. Sunday June 11, 652-5400 x132.

* A Walk/Run/Roll in Lauren's Shoes, 5K/1 mile, Wilkeson Pointe, Buffalo, 10:30 a.m. Sunday June 11, 432-3725.

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