A dozen years ago a couple of friends in St. Louis set a goal.
“Ben Rozario and I were running a lot, and we thought it would be cool to break 9 minutes in the two-mile run,” said Brian Lyons, former Missouri Southern distance runner standout. “We got some friends together to watch. We got a pacer. He and I raced two miles against each other and against the clock ... to add that to our resume, running sub-9 minutes.
“We did. He ran 8:57 and I ran 8:58. We high-fived some folks, a few people and our closest friends.”
From that race between two friends, the Festival of Miles was born, and it has grown into a track showcase of races from 400 meters to the mile. It’s also a fund-raiser for area athletes in need.
“In 2008 it happened a local runner for Saint Louis University, Brigette Schutzman, was injured in a car accident and in a coma,” Lyons said. “She came out of the coma but still had medical expenses. Her team and her coach said we should do something, so we had a high-performance track meet centered around the mile to raise money for Brigette. Every ticket sold would go to the family.”
The feature event that year was an attempt to run a sub-4 minute mile. The winner, University of Missouri graduate and Olympic Trials qualifier Neville Miller, won the race in 4:08, but more importantly, approximately $8,000 was raised for the Schutzman family.
This year’s event is scheduled tonight at the St. Louis University High School track. Thirteen races — runners from all over the country come by invitation only — are scheduled from 6:30 to 9 for middle school, high school and elite runners. Micah Bruggeman, who just completed his sophomore year at Joplin High School, was invited to run in the 800 meters.
“High school and college meets are so long, all day for multiple days sometimes,” Lyons said. “We wanted to put together a package and showcase our sport. Baseball, hockey and basketball operate within a 2 1/2 to 3 hour window. We wanted to do that with track.”
The athlete receiving the proceeds this year is Margaret Miklovic Lyons, Brian’s wife and also a former Lion standout in distance running. In fact, they were inducted together into the Missouri Southern Athletics Hall of Fame in 2014.
“We feel pretty humbled,” Lyons said. “We’ve been on the production side of it all these years. We’ve been there for other people. Never in a million years did we think we’d be on this side of it.
“The community in St. Louis and beyond have been there for us in spirit and with helping hands. I think it’s pretty special that you have Margaret, who has raced in this event, now on the other side, the one who needs to be uplifted a little bit.”
Margaret is battling stage 3 colon cancer.
“She was diagnosed on Feb. 15, her birthday,” Brian said. “She had surgery on the 18th to have about eight inches of her colon removed. They successfully removed the tumor. She started chemo on Feb. 25 and will have eight cycles of chemo through August.
“It’s a pretty rough ride, a lot of fatigue, chemo, drugs. As long as she is able to rest and recover, she feels good for the most part. She’s pretty tough. Anybody who knows anything about Margaret coming out of Missouri Southern is she’s one of the tougher athletes to come out of there. She’s got a lot of grit. Her pain threshold is very high, higher than anybody I’ve met in life.”