WILKES-BARRE — As the entrants and onlookers milled around the dirt track at Kirby Park, Wilkes-Barre Racing's Richard Pais gathered the crowd around to share an honor he felt was well-deserved.
Before any runners toed the start, Pais informed the crowd that as of Wednesday, what was once known as the Kirby Park Mile will now be known as the Chase Mile, named in support of Larksville resident Richard Chase.
Chase, a longtime fixture in the local racing scene, is 66 and fighting what his doctor have told him is a winning battle against cancer.
"I just couldn't believe it, I was in shock when Richard announced that, I just can't believe it," said Chase after the announcement. "That people think of me that way, I'm amazed."
Admittedly, Chase and Pais know each other only from the local racing circuit.
But after a passing and casual conversation the two had last summer at the same even, Pais was moved to action.
"We were both standing off to the side of the race, I was getting ready for my heat and Rich wasn't running," Pais said. "And he said to me that it would have always meant something to him if we could get a really competitive, really special mile race back here at Kirby Park.
"I had known for a little bit, then, that Rich was fighting hard and after hearing him say that I thought to myself about how, sometimes, we don't recognize what we have in the people we're around. And after all the years he's given to the sport, I wanted to do something for him."
Chase, who says he has run a thousand races in his 37 years of running, didn't compete at this year's inaugural Chase Mile, but is determined to get back to the starting line.
It's a decision that, for a man as determined as he is, might be all he needs to complete the run.
It's an attitude that, according to his doctors, has kept Chase going since his diagnosis, citing his fitness and ability to recover and also his will to continue.
"One of my favorite quotes of Rich, according to his son, is that he often speaks of younger runners who slow down when the pain comes," Pais said. "And he says, ‘If I could put my mind in that body, we would never lose.' And I think that's fantastic."
"Oh yeah," Chase concurred, "they'd fly.
"I've had a couple setbacks, but I'm back to the running, walking and running, trying to build things up and I'll just keep trying. When people ask me at different times, what do I do, how do I keep it up, I tell them I can't give one minute of my time up. I tell them that I refuse to let this cancer take one minute of my time and take away from what I want to do.
Fittingly, Chase has entered himself into the second and easily most challenging leg of the series, a climb up Giants Despair.
"I'm going to give it a try. Of course I'll have to run and walk some if it," said Chase. "I hope to get back to training hard enough that I can do the mile next year.
"There's nothing you can do about it, so you just go ahead. You can't look back and complain about it, you've just got to go ahead."