Pueblo Losing a Health and Fitness Jewel

by | Jun 1, 2005 | News Articles

June, 2005 Fit to be Tied Column

From the Pueblo Chieftain
by Gary Franchi


Pueblo Losing a Health and Fitness Jewel

Pueblo’s loss will be the Widefield School District’s gain.

And believe me when I say that losing Ben Valdez is a big loss for Pueblo. Valdez, a huge part of the Pueblo YMCA’s heart and soul for the past 24 years, worked his final day here last Friday and will start a new job June 20 as Director of Community Education and Recreation for Widefield School District No. 3.

Ben will oversee a staff of 180 in a district that includes two high schools, five middle schools and nine elementary schools. He will be in charge of three parks, five ballfields, outdoor volleyball and tennis courts, pools, community centers, an after-school activities program and even a library.

Being excited is one thing, but Valdez is ecstatic and pumped about the new position.

“I’m so excited – I couldn’t even dream this (type of perfect job) up,” the 45-year-old Valdez exclaimed Saturday, a day after being given a rousing sendoff from YMCA staff and board members at a catered lunch in his honor. “I’m just bursting with energy.”

Energy is something Valdez has never lacked. But he also hasn’t been too shabby in the areas of organization, innovation and people management either. These attributes have been evident since he got his first connection with the “Y” through an internship he served at its Camp Jackson in Rye while still a junior at what then was the University of Southern Colorado.

“That was just a great experience and I really learned a lot,” Valdez recalled.

He impressed a lot of people, too. The following March of 1982, he was hired as the YMCA’s Camp & Youth Service Director a couple of months before he graduated from USC with a bachelor’s degree in recreation.

Over the next two dozen years, Valdez also held titles as Youth Service Director, Health & Fitness Director and Vice President of Operations/Senior Program Director. Titles are nice, but it’s what he actually achieved at the YMCA that is significant.

While filling out his résumé, even Ben couldn’t believe some of his accomplishments at the YMCA, like increasing the number of youth sports leagues from four to 28. Or developing 40 new programs, 90 percent of which he is proud to say still exist. Or supervising hundreds of volunteers and staff. Or starting the Y’s Child Care program.

“I said to myself, ‘Wow! I did all that?’ ” he admitted with a big smile.

Believing in the workout lifestyle made it flow naturally.

“I like to see people get out and exercise and do some things good for their body,” he said, basically summing up his lifestyle philosophy.

Over the years, Valdez was a meticulous, detail-oriented race director for a myriad of races that local runners and multi-sport athletes have enjoyed and appreciated. These include the Frostbite 5, Y-Bi Duathlon, Ordinary Mortals Triathlon, the old Drag’n On In Triathlon and Pumpkin Pursuit and on and on.

He also has been part of the YMCA Corporate Cup since its inception in 1985. And most recently, he wrote a grant that led to what will be the new Fitness on the River Walk program the Y is launching in conjunction with the Pueblo Health Dept. and the Historic Arkansas Riverwalk Project.

Being part of these activities has been a big high for Ben over the years.

“I love doing special events,” he pointed out, adding that the Corporate Cup was a special area of interest to him because he believes that “a healthy employee is worth so much” to a company.

He should know. In his 24 years with the “Y,” Valdez took a total of only four and one-half sick days.

Part of the reason is that he has practiced what he preaches, so to speak, by being an avid runner and fitness devotee. The day before he was verbally hired for his new position, Valdez qualified for the Boston Marathon by running a 3:26 marathon in Fort Collins.

While he’s revved for his new job and ready to move on, Ben admitted that not being associated with many people anymore will be difficult. He has developed special relationships with literally hundreds volunteers, the YMCA staff from front desk folks to trainers and various fitness class conductors, members of the Southern Colorado Runners, etc.

“They’ve all been huge,” he stated emphatically.

But for us in the community, the hardest part will be not having HIM around, including the professionalism and quality he brought to everything he did. If anyone’s been huge, it’s been Ben Valdez and his commitment to quality health and fitness programs in Pueblo.

He will be missed greatly.

Runners can participate in only one of the two area races in June since they are both on the same day – this Saturday. One is the eighth annual Run for Rio 5K (3.1 miles) run and walk that will take place at 8 a.m. at Rye High School. The other is the Little Run on the Prairie (5K run/2K walk) set for 8:30 a.m. in Pueblo West.

The Run for Rio offers a course in a beautiful neighborhood setting at the foot of Greenhorn Mountain. Proceeds help provide a $1,000 scholarship to a graduating Rye High School senior in memory of Rio Don Diego Martinez, former school athlete who died accidentally in 1997.

The Little Run on the Prairie is part of the St. Paul’s Church sports festival. A novelty for participants is being able to receive a free spinal analysis, courtesy of the Pueblo West Chiropractic Center.

Upcoming Pueblo-Area Races

  • Saturday – Run for Rio, 5K, 8 a.m., Rye High School (859-5136).
  • Saturday – Little Run on the Prairie, 5K run, 8:30 a.m., Lovell Park in Pueblo West (821-5463).
  • June 25 – Belmont Butt Buster (Prediction Series), 5M, 8 a.m., 1318 Horseshoe Drive, (542-5148).
  • July 2 – Women’s Distance Festival, 5K run/walk, 7:30 a.m., Pueblo City Park (676-7343).
  • July 23 – Pioneer Run, 5K run/walk, 7 a.m., Hollydot Golf Course in Colorado City (676-3353).
  • July 23 – Moonlight Madness (Prediction Series), 5M, 8 p.m., 3685 Verde Rd. (676-7343).

Send comments and fitness information to Gary Franchi via e-mail at gfranchi@ghvalley.net.

Return to Gary Franchi’s running and fitness writings index page.