Women who revived city marathon launch one-miler

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Sometimes extraordinary things happen under ordinary circumstances, and so it was with the rebirth of the Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon and its new, smaller sibling -- the GNC Live Well Liberty Mile.

The one-mile race will be held Friday along Liberty Avenue from the Strip District to Downtown.

Patrice Matamoros, now race director of the marathon, was organizing a Run for Fun event for the students at Fairview Elementary School in the Fox Chapel Area School District, which the children of Dee Stathis and Michele Fetting also attended.

In addition to having children in the same school, the women shared a common interest in running.

Mrs. Fetting had run in various races, including triathlons. Mrs. Stathis had competed in a marathon and several half-marathons, and Mrs. Matamoros was a nationally ranked collegiate runner.

The original Pittsburgh Marathon was halted in 2003 when the city went through a financial crisis. Mrs. Fetting was instrumental in procuring a sponsor and setting a new starting line for the Dick's Sporting Goods Marathon in 2008.

"I think Michelle was really relentless until she got Dick's and the city to understand the need to bring back the marathon," Mrs. Stathis said.

Once the stage and date were set for the new marathon, Mrs. Fetting asked Mrs. Matamoros for help with the event because of Mrs. Matamoros' success with the Run for Fun program in the elementary school. Mrs. Matamoros agreed to be the race director of the marathon.

Mrs. Fetting mentioned the launch of the new Pittsburgh marathon to Mrs. Stathis at a cookout.

"She asked if I wanted to help with the marathon," Mrs. Stathis said, recalling that Mrs. Fettig said it would probably involve just a few hours a week.

Working together and sometimes using their own money, Mrs. Stathis and Mrs. Matamoros began seeking funding, traveling to Harrisburg in search of a grant. "We had nothing," Mrs. Stathis said. "We had to borrow office space in the old Alcoa building. We had two cubes and a part-time administrator."

Getting the runners to the starting line in the spring of 2009 was a monumental task.

"It was all-encompassing," said Mrs. Stathis, who remembered the team joking about "our 60-hour part-time jobs. We had less than a year to put it together," Mrs. Stathis recalled. The reward was more than 10,000 runners entering the race the first year it was back.

"We were just blown away," she said.

And like the runners who crossed the finish line, the team was inspired to keep going. A venture that started as volunteer work became full-time jobs. Mrs. Matamoros and Mrs. Stathis now operate out of an office on River Avenue on the North Shore with a staff of 10.

Among their North Hills staffers are Adrian Deithorn, director of development, from Allison Park and Joan Gohh, director of administration, from Franklin Park.

That staff is now working on the GNC Live Well Liberty Mile, a one-mile race set to start at 17th Street in the Strip District and follow Liberty Avenue to the finish line at Sixth Street in the Golden Triangle.

The race features six categories -- recreational, charity, corporate teams, masters (ages 40 and older), competitive milers (six minutes and under) and elite runners.

The race will have a $25,000 purse, making it the third-largest one-mile race in the country. The male and female winners will each take home $4,000.

"Distance running is so popular now, but Patrice wanted to expose the track runners to a world-class event," Mrs. Stathis said. "It feels different than distance running. Competitors will be moving shoulder-to-shoulder, pushing themselves to rush past the others. It's going to be really fast and really exciting."

Information: www.libertymile.org.


Rita Michel, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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