Leisa Villani didn’t run competitively growing up in Norfolk or in college at Old Dominion University. She ran her first marathon in 1991, and the sport grew into a passion.
Now she’s being inducted into a running club’s hall of fame.
Villani, a running coach for the Virginia Beach-based fitness training program, the Dai Roberts Group, is among the five inductees for the Tidewater Striders Hall of Fame Class of 2016.
The other new members are Paul Steele of Virginia Beach, Ken Lampert and Michele Smith-Harden of Norfolk, Kathleen McAllister Morgan of North Carolina. They will be inducted Feb. 6 at the Norfolk Yacht and Country Club during the annual Tidewater Striders Awards Banquet.
“I’m very humbled,” Villani said. “I ran because I like to run. It’s always been fun for me.”
Villani said she bumped into a committee member at a park the weekend before the voting.
“‘I told him, ‘Yeah, vote for me, I’ll bake you a pie!” she joked. “That was really nice. It is a big honor.”
Mel Williams, chair of Tidewater Striders Hall of Fame Committee, provided the following summaries of the inductees’ accomplishments:
Paul Steele has been a member of the club for over 35 years, and was very successful as a master’s runner. He competed on numerous Tidewater Striders masters teams that placed first in local and national events, such as the Shamrock Marathon and the Marine Corps Marathon. Paul was also a dedicated volunteer for the club, serving as the editor for the club’s newsletter, The Rundown, from 1990-98. He is a four-time recipient of the Tidewater Striders President’s Award, and was awarded the Charles R. George Volunteer of the Year in 1992.
Leisa Villani is one of the most successful female masters and senior runners to compete for the Tidewater Striders. Over the course of the past dozen years or so she has placed first as the overall masters’ and age-group winner in numerous local, regional and interstate races, and often would also be the first overall female finisher. In 2008, the Washington Running Report, which details running performances for the mid-Atlantic region, ranked Leisa as first for the year in the female age group 50-54; she was labeled the Tornado from the South. Also that year Leisa ranked fifth in the USA and 25th in the world in the half-marathon for females age 50-54. She currently holds six Virginia State Road Race age-group records: Female age group 45-49 (5K and 10K); Female age group 50-54 (5K, 10K, Half-marathon); Female age group 55-59 (Half-marathon).
Ken Lampert was the dominant male runner in most local and regional events, both track and road races, during the club’s early years from 1976 through the early 1980s. As examples of his race times, he ran the mile in 4:07 and 5 kilometers in 14:15. Ken was also a key volunteer, becoming the founding director of the Run for Sight 5K and directing this race to benefit disabled athletes over the course of 30 years. Professionally, Ken also served, and continues to serve, as the volunteer head coach for cross country and track at Norfolk Academy. Over the course of 38 years his teams have won over 85 percent of their meets and he is recognized as one of the leading cross country/track coaches in the Tidewaterarea.
Kathleen McAllister Morgan, a 35-year member of the club, was one of the most successful female distance runners during the 1980s and 1990s, winning many local and regional road races either overall or as an age-group winner. She raced all distances, from the mile (5:18) to the marathon (2:58), and is a multiple winner of the Tidewater Striders Grand Prix award. Kathleen also competed successfully in triathlons and other such competitions, setting a course record in a military pentathlon. Her competitive running career came to end in 2003 with a spinal injury, so she channeled her energy into volunteer efforts, serving as a coach and the Program Coordinator for Dare County Special Olympics.
Michele Smith-Harden is one of the most dedicated long-distance runners in the local Tidewater Striders, but also in the United States and even the world. Michele has not only completed an official marathon in all 50 of the United States, but has also completed an official marathon on all seven continents, including Antarctica. She is a bona fide member of the 50 States Marathon Club and the Seven Continents Club. In nearly 50 percent of these races Michele has placed in the awards for the overall, masters, or age-group divisions. Michele designs special running outfits to wear for each event, and photos of her racing have been published in many newspapers around the country, including the Virginian Pilot. Among her awards, Michele is a recipient of the Tidewater Striders Outstanding Performance Award in 2010.