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A Birthday to Remember

January 13, 2017
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Story provided by Westmont Athletics

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - While some might try to hide from turning 50 years of age, Westmont athletic director Dave Odell embraced it. More than that, Odell set out to make it a memorable day and help fundraise money for both the Santa Barbara Track Club and Westmont Athletics.

Calling it "50 for Fifty for $50,000", Odell proposed to run 50 miles around the Westmont Track on his 50th birthday (January 6) and sought out sponsors that would contribute $50,000.

"I have this group of friends who have traditionally done challenges on their five-year and ten-year, big birthdays," said Odell. "My business partner in Elite Physical Therapy, Mike Swan, ran 40 800s on his 40th birthday. Another friend, Geoff Gray, tried to break, and he may have set, the world record for most consecutive lunges. He did lunges around the track for something like two hours.

"I'd been thinking I wanted to do something fun for my fiftieth. When Tom FitzSimons set the world record for most consecutive high-fives running around the Westmont track, I thought that was cool.

"I love the Westmont Track. I love the scenery around it and I think it is the most beautiful place in the world. I have so many memories and over the years have run so many laps on it. It just seemed like a fitting thing to do on my 50th birthday."

It turned out to be more than just a fitting idea – it became a celebration with friends and family and people from many different aspects of Odell's life showing up throughout the day to run a few laps with him or cheer him on.

"People seemed to be inspired by it," said Odell. "The moment the NPR/KCLU piece ran, we started getting phone calls. They were inspired by it and they donated. There was a couple whose son went to school with our son back in elementary school. They heard about it and they showed up and ran a couple of laps. The press seemed to think it was an interesting story – maybe it was a slow news week."

Even the weather cooperated. A break between storms provided a clear and cool day, perfect for running 50 miles in what Odell hoped would be under nine hours.

"The turnout of people was really amazing," noted Odell. "I showed up and (Santa Barbara Track Club's) Josh Priester and Tom FitzSimons were already there and had set up. I wasn't expecting that. I thought I would bang out 10 miles before anyone got there. But they were ready to go and were very supportive." 

Of the 201.168 laps around the track, Odell reported, "I didn't run a single lap by myself. There were probably only two to three laps when I ran with just two people. (Westmont men's soccer coach) Dave Wolf pounded out about an hour and 52 minutes. I really appreciated him being there, because that was the stretch when there were fewer people. I think Kate Elliott also came during that same time.

"Having people to run with and have conversations with was fun and helped break the monotony. Ashley Mayfield, a friend in town, was saying, 'you could think about every mile representing a year in your life.' She ran mile 27 with me, which was the year we bought our house, so during that lap I was thinking about buying our house and all that came with it.

"I got a big lift when the basketball teams came out and then the women's soccer group came out. With all the people that came out to support me, it was a really special experience that exceeded my expectations by 20-fold."

Odell was also surprised by the scope of people from different periods of his life that offered their support. 

"My first employer was a guy named Richard Aller, who is a famous peanut vendor at Dodger Stadium," said Odell. "He hired me when I was 11 years old to sell ice cream. I ended up working with him all the way until after college. I used to do the Raider games at the Colosseum, Dodger Stadium and the Sports Arena.

"Richard drove up all the way from Los Angeles. He was school teacher at Compton High School and we met him because he loved the way my dad coached basketball. He was very close to John Wooden and he became a family friend and mentor. So, it was really cool to have him there."

Odell also enjoyed the support of his family. His wife, DeAnna, was there all day running alongside him while also providing food and other items.

"DeAnna was just amazing. She was just the general out there. I didn't even know what she was doing. She put together food and invited people to be there at the end. DeAnna ran more than a marathon, herself." 

Odell's son Walker was also a frequent running companion. "Walker was amazing, he ran over 20 miles with me.

"Both my parents (Bill and Gayle Odell) and both DeAnna's parents (Roy and Linda Morfoot), my cousin (Gayle Williams) and DeAnna's sister (Sidney Epson) showed up. My niece Jessica was there all day long helping with the lap counting. My daughters Raynee and Rallie were able to come after school. 

"My sister Susie (Maga) killed two birds with one stone. She was here for the volleyball banquet where they celebrated Ken Preston's retirement. Susie, as a former coach, is a real encouraging person. She went to the other end of the track and was cheering me on that last four or five miles.

"She and I overlapped two years at Westmont, so, I was friends with her friends. Some of the 1990 volleyball team that she was on and that went to the national semifinals under Ken Preston were there as well. Julie Rosemond, who ran track here at Westmont, was also there. That group all came out and gave me a hard time."

That last four or five miles proved to be a bit more challenging than Odell expected.

"I thought I had about 16 laps remaining, but I really had 21 left. So, finishing under the nine-hour mark became a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. I had to push those last five miles harder, in fact, those were my fastest five miles of the day." 

"Fortunately, it was also the time when the largest crowd, upwards of 100 people, came out to lend their support."

"As I was coming around, I saw my first boss out of college, Jim Koopmans, and his wife. I saw (Dr.) Rick Ryu and Don Erickson, a long-time friend, and people after people - whether it was from my business life, or from Westmont. 

The extra encouragement proved to be enough to break nine hours. Odell crossed the line in a time of eight hours, 57 minutes and 55 seconds. He also reached his fundraising goal. 

"We are currently at $51,662 and it is still coming in," reported Odell. "We sent out a follow-up thank you and some people have responded to that with donations. I knew I could run 50 miles, but I didn't know if I could raise $50,000 in that way. 

"People I work with outside of town donated probably a quarter of what we received. That was really cool because they don't really have any connection to Westmont or to the Santa Barbara Track Club."

Asked five days after the event if he would do it again, Odell replied, "Yeah, I would! There is actually a couple of USATF Track races for 50 and 100 miles. Now that I've done it once I'm thinking that wouldn't be so bad. However, if you had asked me two days ago, I would have said, 'No!' 

"Yesterday was definitely a turning point. I could walk up and down my stairs without feeling a stab. I ran a little bit on Monday and Tuesday, just to get the blood moving. I got a massage Monday and I got in the Cryosauna for a little bit." 

All-in-all, it proved to be a birthday celebration that not only Odell, but his friends and family will never forget. 

"You can tell that I'm still beaming from the experience," said Odell. "It was a cool way – active and outdoors – to celebrate a birthday and it was a great way to do something for good causes. In the end, I think it was good for awareness about Westmont and the Santa Barbara Track Club."