Speedy walker represents spirit of Spring Runoff

by | Mar 3, 2010 | News Articles

Speedy walker represents spirit of Spring Runoff

Finally, Natalie Veges will have some walking company this Sunday.

Normally, the nimble Puebloan does her daily three-mile walks by herself near her South Side home because no friends or acquaintances can keep up with her. Or, having seen her moving at her swift pace, they are smart enough not to want to try.

“I go by myself because I like to walk fast – always have,” she said matter-of-factly.

This isn’t a long-legged, spring chicken we’re talking about. Veges is 4-foot-10 and 96 pounds (having gained a pound during the past year), and she turned 82 years young in September. She is entered in the 1.6-mile walk division of Sunday’s 32nd annual Pueblo Chieftain-sponsored Spring Runoff, which will begin at 9 a.m. at Dutch Clark Stadium.

In addition to the walk, the Runoff also includes 5-kilometer, 10K and 10-mile running races, and all of them will start in the Dutch Clark parking lot. They will be followed at 10:45 a.m. by a “Funner to be a Runner” one-mile youth run and a 50-yard toddler race for kids 6 years old and under, both starting down on the Stadium track.

Last year’s race had a total of 891 finishers in all of its divisions, and Veges was among them, finishing with a time of 28 minutes and 50 seconds. By any age standard, that’s hoofing it pretty good.

During the last decade, she’s become a fixture at the Runoff, missing only the 2006 extravaganza to attend a play in Denver with a bus-traveling Pueblo group. She has entered the walk division each year with the exception of 2005, when she took part in the 5K and, despite walking the course, took first in the 70+ division at the age of 77 with a time of 45:27.

She has proudly kept the Runoff results and the medals she has received each year together in separate envelopes. But she’s also sensible enough to realize that, if there is snow on Sunday, she’ll skip the race for fear of slipping and hurting herself.

The former Natalie Canala was born in Fall River, Massachusetts, a city slightly smaller than Pueblo and located 46 miles south of Boston. When she was 8, her mother slipped and fell on her head and died of brain hemorrhaging at the age of 36. It was partially left to Natalie to raise her three younger siblings, a task that kept her from attending high school.

Natalie went to work in the city’s textile factory when she was 16. Soon afterward, she met Puebloan William Veges, who was in the Navy and stationed at nearby Newport, R.I. They married when she was 18 and moved to Pueblo, where he joined the Veges Shoe Repair business that his dad had started in 1919 on Northern Avenue. They raised three boys and the youngest – 51-year-old William Jr., referred to as Billy or “Bids” by his mother – has carried on the historic Bessemer business.

While her husband died in 2000, Natalie recalls fondly how they met near a carnival merry-go-round and how she started teaching him to dance on their first get-together.

“I always loved to dance and still do,” she said, adding that she is a member of Eagles 145 in Pueblo and attends their dances regularly. But she’s always been a walker, too.

“I’ve been walking all my life because back then I never had a car,” she pointed out.

She participated in her first organized racing event 17 years ago when she walked the Bolder Boulder 10K. She also has walked the Cherry Creek Sneak several years while visiting her middle son, Robert, 57, who lives in Golden. Both Robert and Bill Jr. have been devoted high-quality long-distance racers for decades.

Natalie figures she’ll keep entering the Spring Runoff “as long as I can,” meaning as long as she stays healthy. At her most recent six-month checkup, she got the “thumbs up” from her doctor.

“I’ve been blessed with good health, but I just take one day at a time and try to have fun,” she noted.

Besides her walking and dancing, Natalie keeps active by stopping daily at her son’s shoe repair business, keeping the shop immaculate while visiting with him for a few hours and chatting with customers. She attends plays regularly in Denver and has traveled to many U.S. sights with her sons. She now limits her driving to Pueblo’s South Side, running errands, having lunch and a little shopping with a friend and going to doctor’s appointments.

If anyone represents the Spring Runoff being “the race for all ages and ability levels,” it’s Natalie.

Runoff entry forms

Entry forms are available at The Chieftain, Gold Dust Saloon on Union Ave., Pueblo YMCA near Pueblo Blvd. and Highway 50, Runner’s Roost in Colorado Springs and sporting goods outlets in the region. They also can be downloaded from the SCR’s website (www.socorunners.org). Online registration ends Friday.

Visitors from Mexico

A contingent of runners from Chihuahua, Mexico, traditionally make the journey to Pueblo to run the Cinco de Mayo run in May, but they were unable to in 2009 because of H1N1 circumstances. Now, the Pueblo Sister City Commission is sponsoring a contingent of seven Chihuahua runners to participate in the Runoff for the first time. Host families are still being lined up, and anyone who would like to host one of these runners is urged to contact Hilbert Navarro, a newly appointed commission member, at either 251-00436 or via e-mail at hilbertnavarro@gmail.com.

Packet pickup

Spring Runoff packets can be picked up at The Pueblo Chieftain, 825 W. Sixth St., from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 pm. Friday and from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. On race day, packets will be available at Dutch Clark Stadium and must be picked up by 8:15 a.m. All race-day packet pickup and registration will take in the big tent on the west parking lot side (where the race starts) this year.

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