By Budd Bailey
It was particularly good to be part of the induction ceremony for this year’s class of the Western New York Running Hall of Fame on Friday night. After all, we couldn’t hold the race last year because of the pandemic. It’s always a nice night, and gives some recognition to people who certainly deserve it.
Here is my introduction for the trio, presented last night on the Elmwood Strip:
Some people are considered for the Western New York Running Hall of Fame for their running accomplishments. Others put up noteworthy achievements as coaches. Still others do their work behind the scenes, and are considered contributors. Amy Fakterowitz checks all of those boxes at the same time. Not too many of our inductees over the years can say that.
Most people know about some of her running accomplishments. She ran for the SUNY Buffalo track and cross country team, and then moved smoothly into road racing. There she was a two-time overall winner of the JP Morgan Chase Corporate Challenge, and has been part of winning teams as well. That’s allowed her to run in races from South Africa to Chicago. She’s also been a Buffalo News Runner of the Year age-group champion multiple times. Amy also has run more than 500 races since the age of 19, and recorded more than 200 wins. Speaking for those of us who have never won a single race, we are extremely jealous. She probably has won more races than any other runner in Western New York history. In six of those victories, Fakterowitz has defeated all of the female contestants … and all of the male runners too.
By the way, when Amy hasn’t been running at races, she’s often been at the events cheering her friends on. You can pick her out, because her dogs are always there with her. In fact, the dogs have done more races than I have over the years.
Amy has made time to do some coaching over the years. She created a summer track program for Amherst youth, and helped coached it for the past 10 years. Amy paced Buffalo Marathon runners to goal times, and worked as a coach the Amherst modified cross-country team.
Then there’s the contributor part of the story. Amy has served on committees for races and running clubs on a local and regional basis. She is very active in the Checkers’ running club, and helps run the Pete Glavin Cross Country runners across the state and the Girls on the Run program locally.
How has she done all that? She’s an elementary school teacher. After you’ve chased those kids, keeping up with Allison Carr is a piece of cake.
That makes Amy a runner-coach-contributor. Now we can add a new hyphen to describe her. Meet runner-coach-contributor-Hall of Famer, Amy Fakterowitz.
No matter what Mike Heitzenrater has done in the sport of running, he has been successful. And he’s done a lot over the course of a few decades.
Mike’s career started at Starpoint High School, when he was part of an undefeated track team in 1995-96. He won events in distances from the 100 meters to the 3,200 meters. Mike also was the Niagara Gazette’s cross-country runner of the year that school season. Heitzenrater went on to run collegiately at Cortland, where he won individual championships in conference competition and led his team to honors as well.
After graduation, it was on to road racing. Mike didn’t win every race he entered, but sometimes it seemed like it. He won the Buffalo News’ Runner of the Year overall competition five different times. No male has done it more. That includes four in a row from 2001 to 2004. He has two local Corporate Challenge victories, and finished ninth overall in the 2004 international event. Mike won six gold medals at the Empire State Games. Just to stay active, he’s run at least two miles every day since 1997.
A look at his personal bests are impressive. He’s run a 4:21 mile, a 15:14 for 5 kilometers, and a 2:39:49 marathon. That combination of strength and endurance is not just good, it’s amazing.
Mike moved smoothly into coaching, and has brought his winning ways to Newfane High School. He has won coach of the year honors there, won championships on the state, regional and local level, and mentored many top runners. By the way, you may have heard of the movie “Straight Outta Compton” from 2015. Mike’s runners can be recognized by their “Straight Outta Newfane” logos.
Heitzenrater is far from done in his career, but his place in the pantheon of Buffalo running has been secured for a long time. Now that he’s a Hall of Famer, it’s official. Welcome, Mike Heitzenrater.
It could be argued that when it comes to running, Western New York has produced more good runners per capita who were eligible for Medicare than any other part of the country. We’ve had a series of athletes who have won titles and set records on a national basis. Maybe we’re just lucky, or maybe we’ve had a great group of people who have encouraged others to stay physically fit and keep moving for as long as possible. Many of those runners already are in the Western New York Running Hall of Fame. Now Tony Napoli is joining them.
For those of you who are closing in on retirement and think it’s too late to start running, Tony is a great role model. He started running at the age of 63. At the age of 64, he ran a 19:09 5-kilometer race to set a national age-group record. Tony set many other such records, including the fact that he was the first 70-year-old American to ever break 20 minutes for 5 kilometers. He also set a world record for the mile at the age of 77.
Napoli picked up plenty of honors along the way. He won 12 gold medals at the Empire State Games, setting four meet records in 1986. Tony ran 23 marathons after the age of 65, including three in Boston. When he was 69, he ran a marathon I 3:05. My car couldn’t go that long that fast. He was a three-time Buffalo News Runner of the Year age-group winner. Meanwhile, he helped create the Jog for the Jake race – a must-run event that was held on Father’s Day for years.
Tony died in 2008 at the age of 87. Let’s hope that his induction into the Western New York Running Hall of Fame can inspire runners of all ages for years to come.
Accepting for him is Mary Maggofin; let’s have a nice hand for Tony Napoli.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)