Hall of Fame is family affair
By Brian Bloom
Their home reflects their passions. Waterfowl and game fish adorn the basement walls, duck decoys stack along a decorative shelf. Oil paintings replicating one of the world’s great artists dominate a fireplace mantle, more line the walls upstairs.
Stone work and landscaping brings your eye to the front door, a cornucopia of wine bottles acting as the next artistic effort.
All of this pales to the story behind the interests. The story of two people who literally ran into each other more than 20 years ago in a Bartlett city park and have kept on running ever since.
“We were running in Freeman Park,” Vic Thayer said in explaining his meeting now-wife Kathleen.
“Back then we were probably the only two that ran in Bartlett. “I struck up a conversation with her – started dating and the rest…”
The rest is a remarkable story of two people destined to become one.
Both were involved in law enforcement; Vic as a commander with the Memphis PD, Kathleen working with Shelby County Sheriff’s Department.
Both had children from a previous spouse.
Both loved to run.
“At first she was running for health benefits,” Vic said as he looked at his wife. “I began running in 1982 when I was 39 and ran competitively in the early 80s,” the now 70-year old husband said.
“I ran my first race in 1991,” Kathleen said.
“She won an award that race,” Vic broke in. “Now we travel all across the country and out of the country. She’s ran more than 350 races – I’m between 800-900,” he added.
Recognized Tuesday by Bartlett’s Board of Aldermen, Kathleen Thayer recently joined her husband as a member of the Memphis Amateur Hall of Fame. And it seemed appropriate.
“Where you see one of us,” Vic Thayer said.
“You see the other,” Kathleen concluded.
One could argue the only thing Vic and Kathleen Thayer don’t finish is their own sentences.
According to Vic, the pair has won an age group award in more than 98 percent of their races.
Both have competed in the Boston Marathon, both have earned world recognition capturing top honors in the World Police and Fire Olympics with Kathleen setting an age group record along the way.
Both motivate the other to exceed expectations.
Running for years in races 5-15 kilometers long, the Boston Marathon was another challenge Kathleen chose to tackle. The world pre-eminent distance race, runners must qualify with specific times based one’s age.
She tested her marathon legs first when she competed in Canada, finishing fourth in her age group. She then ran at Kiawah Island, SC, winning her age group and qualifying for Boston.
“Vic taught me how to train the right way,” Kathleen said.
In 1999 that training paid off when she clocked a time of 3:59.23, digits she will always remember.
Then it was Vic’s turn. Always a competitor, Vic said he felt no desire to test himself with a marathon. And Vic was used to tests. A quadruple bypass in 2002 set him back from racing for only 16 weeks, his wife nursing him back to health.
In 2007, with Kathleen urging him to try, Vic qualified for Boston with a strong finish in the Memphis Marathon. Stating it wasn’t his best race, Vic covered Boston’s terrain in 4:11.37 at the age of 65.
“It’s not about thinking you can run the marathon, Vic said. “You’ve got to know you can do it.”
Today, Kathleen Thayer runs approximately 1,000 miles a year. Vic, by his own estimates, has covered more than 58,000 miles since his started in 1982.
Last year, the Memphis Amateur Sports Hall of Fame inducted Vic, one year later Kathleen made it a family affair.
“…becoming not only mates for life but mates for sport… it’s evident that they have been running after each other for many years,” the hall of fame induction letter read.
From 1993 through 2011 Kathleen participated in the World Law Enforcement and Fire Fighter Olympic competitions, representing the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department. In her most recent competition, the International Games, she won gold in the half marathon and silver in the 10K. Over the years Kathleen has won a total of 18 Police and Fire Olympic Medals, including 11 golds.
In 1990 Kathleen became the first female to compete for all of the Tennessee State Grand Prix races from Memphis to Kingsport and has earned titles from overall female, female master, female grand master and female senior grand master as well as numerous age group awards, according to Memphis Hall of Fame materials.
Today, with hall of fame credentials among hundreds of trophies, medals, ribbons and plaques. Vic and Kathleen Thayer are comfortable in their surroundings. Chairs encircle a large basement family room, one for each child when they return for family gatherings.
Fishing rods adorn a narrow hallway with a small office at its end. There shelves bow under the weight of trophies and medals, plaques and honors - all bearing Vic Thayer’s name.
“Mine are packed away,” Kathleen said in explanation. “They were upstairs, we didn’t want the weight to cave the floor in,” she laughed.