WHEELING - A plethora of Wheeling road racing pioneers have been elected for enshrinement into the Ogden Newspapers 20K Classic Hall of Fame.
The Class of 2010 will be officially inducted during ceremonies that will take place Saturday afternoon at the event's post-race party at Wheeling's Heritage Port. Among the six honorees are five men and one woman, all of whom have been dedicated to the event either on or off the course.
What you might call a late bloomer, Cagot didn't start road racing until age 47. But he sure has packed plenty of success into the past 30 years.
He has run in 52 marathons, including Boston five times, New York once and Los Angeles six times. But Cagot, 77, still considers the Ogden 20K his favorite.
"It was very challenging," Cagot said of the Wheeling layout. "I excelled in harder races for some reason. But the atmosphere in Wheeling was so good and the people were so nice.
"I really liked it," he added. "It was the top race to run in, as far as I was concerned."
Cagot started road racing in the late 1970s at a walk for cancer event in Wintersville. From there, his love of the sport exploded.
Cagot starred in football, basketball and baseball at the former Springfield High School. And when he started racing, the natural speed he possessed emerged.
"I was very lucky," he said. "God blessed me with strength and natural speed, and that made it easier for me to run long distances."
Always looking for a challenge, Cagot once competed in five 10K events in one weekend. He also finished 285th in the L.A. Marathon in 1988, an event that also served as a qualifier for the Seoul Summer Olympics.
"I've gotten a lot of support from my wife, Laura, and my four kids," Cagot said. "The backbone of running is family."
Cagot resides in East Springfield and is retired from Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. He worked in the mill, at the Steubenville and Mingo plants, until he was 71.
"I'm really surprised," Cagot said. "I never expected an honor like this."
While he's never laced up his shoes for any of the previous 33 Ogden 20K races, John DeBlasis is a friend to all who compete in the event.
DeBlasis has been a familiar face along the race course since its inception and is mainly noted for his work helping runners at the finish line.
"It's important that this type of recognition is shared with the health professionals that are always there," DeBlasis said. "One name might get associated with the race, but this is a collaborative effort."
DeBlasis began his association with the race by working at the aid station on 29th Street Hill. But for most of his tenure he's been a presence at the finish line.
"We act as a screening process at the start-finish line to determine if any of the runners are having distress," he said. "There's about four or five of us there. And if there are issues, we escort you back to the aid station by WesBanco Arena."
DeBlasis credited the late Dr. Lee Jones for setting the standard of care offered at the race and noted the list of people helping at the finish line has gone virtually unchanged.
"It's such a great group of people, and the race is as much social as anything else," he said. "It's an opportunity to see people you haven't seen in a year."
DeBlasis, a Bellaire native, has worked in physical therapy in the Ohio Valley since 1976. He currently serves as director of the Physical Therapy department at Wheeling Hospital.
When Patty DeGasperis' husband, Larry, died more than 30 years ago, she needed an outlet to relieve the stress of her loss. That outlet became road racing.
"I became addicted to it," DeGasperis, a Wheeling resident, said. "It gave me a sense of well-being."
So, along with friends Sandy Mendenhall, Brenda Buffington and Russ and Mary Lou Hutchins, among others, DeGasperis began to take to the streets of Wheeling. But it wasn't until the early 1980s that she decided to give the 20K a shot.
"I watched the race, and it made me think I could do it," she said. "Once you start running, it makes you feel so good."
The Wheeling Central graduate remembers the first time she attacked the Wheeling course.
"It was hard," she said. "I think 29th Street hill is the toughest. It's a long hill, but the fans, they keep you going."
Two of DeGasperis' biggest fans are her parents.
Mr. And Mrs. Norman Pentino, age 90 and 88, respectively, still cheer their daughter on as the race winds through Elm Grove.
"They haven't missed a race," DeGasperis said.
DeGasperis has always won or been at the top of her age group in the Ogden. She has also qualified for the Boston Marathon and competed in a variety of other smaller races.
To be a part of the Ogden HOF is a welcome surprise.
"I'm really humbled about it," said the semi-retired hairdresser. "It's fun to be part of the race. It's a wonderful race."
One of the famed Ogden Ironmen, Fiorelli is preparing for his 34th appearance in the Memorial Day weekend classic.
"It's a real honor to be part of the Hall of Fame," Fiorelli said. "I feel like a pioneer. ... We were part of something before it became really popular."
Fiorelli is referring to the group of guys he ran with before the race began. Along with D.J. Jebbia, Melvin Kahle and others, the former Wheeling firefighter used to run at the former YMCA.
"It was 33 laps for a mile," Fiorelli recalled.
Fiorelli started running at Wheeling Central in cross country to get in shape for other sports. He competed in the inaugural 20K in 1977 and has been part of the race since, excluding one race in the 1990s when he served in Operation Desert Storm.
"It's a tremendous bond I share with the other Ironmen and grows as the years go on," Fiorelli said. "Summer doesn't begin until we get to this race. It's a nice weekend of activities."
While competition helped fuel Fiorelli's fire during the early years of the race, camaraderie is the focus of the event these days. As for when he'll stop trying to tame the streets of Wheeling, Fiorelli's not sure.
Frazier has been a big part of the race, both as a runner and behind the scenes.
"When the letter came in the mail, I was surprised when I saw the committee had considered me for the Hall of Fame," Frazier said. "It's great. I'm really thankful."
Frazier's brother, Mike, competed in the first race in 1977 and finished in the top 10. The following year, George competed in his first race and Saturday the Wheeling resident will run his 31st Ogden. And he'll have his son, Chad, with him.
"For a lot of years I've always looked forward to the race," George Frazier said. "It's always a challenge, but that's what I like about it. When you finish it you have a real sense of accomplishment."
As manager of CentreTown Fitness, Frazier has opened the doors of the facility on race day each year so participants can shower.
"I'm an exercise physiologist by trade, and I think running or walking is a key element for people and it's something everyone should do," Frazier said. "I think people should get involved."
Bill Hannig has been away from Wheeling for seven years, but the memories of his days running the streets with his friends are near and dear to his heart.
So when Hannig, who now lives in western Maryland, found out he was going to be enshrined in the Ogden 20K Classic Hall of Fame, it made his day.
"I've lost contact with most of my friends back there, and many of my running friends have already gotten in the Hall of Fame," Hannig said. "I never thought I'd have this opportunity. When you move away, people tend to forget about you."
Hannig said he was part of the "Greenlawn Greyhounds," a group of men who liked to run in Wheeling. He was 39 when he competed in his first Wheeling race.
"The race in Wheeling gave us all the excitement to become better runners. We were all very competitive."
And it was a race in early days where local runners could rub shoulders with some of the nation's elite runners like Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter.
"Even though Bill Rodgers was a world-class runner, we looked at each other and talked the same thing. We respected each other."
And when Hannig was injured or couldn't compete, he helped with other aspects of the race. "I used to work the finish line with Dick Dei," Hannig remembered. "The next thing to being in the race was being at the finish line. We were really addicted to it."
Hannig, who will turn 72 in October, has had two knees replaced, but he wouldn't change anything about his running career.
"It was a wonderful time in my life," he said. "We all loved to get together. I'm very appreciative to Ogden Newspapers for keeping the race running. It keeps Wheeling on the running map."