Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Thrill of competition diminished for first Gasparilla women's champ

Thrill is gone for Kim Merritt

TAMPA — Bill Rodgers, the famous marathoner, won the inaugural Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 15K in 1978. He'll compete in the event's 40th running Saturday.

But who won the first women's 15K? And where will she be Saturday?

The answers: Kim Merritt, and she'll be waiting tables at Bernie's.

Bernie's Hometown Pizzeria is in Racine, Wisc., Merritt's hometown. She works there part-time on weekends to go with her job at a factory that manufactures heat exchangers.

"I've been there 20 years," said Merritt, 61.

Merritt was 22 when she won the 1978 Gasparilla 15K with a time of 55 minutes, 40 seconds.

The winner of the 1975 New York City Marathon and the 1976 Boston Marathon, Merritt was once one of America's top long-distance runners.

Rodgers will be in Tampa to mark his 1978 Gasparilla win. Merritt won't be present. Gasparilla Distance Classic Association executive director Susan Harmeling said the Gasparilla race association reached out to Merritt for the 35th anniversary but didn't hear back.

"My number is still in the phone book," Merritt said.

Merritt said her competitive career ended about 30 years ago when she was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. "When I got sick, I couldn't race anymore," she said. "I couldn't push myself. I was going to races, making money. It was my whole life. It was very hard."

She went through a divorce. She worked two jobs to support her two children. Her daughter, Kristin, went to Michigan State on a gymnastics scholarship. Her son, Kenny, ran on scholarship for the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, where his mother was an All-American.

Merritt lives alone. She runs six days a week, usually with one of her dogs. She has entered a few races over the years. "But racing isn't fun anymore," she said. "I still love running. I just don't like racing."

Martin Fennelly, Times Sports Columnist

Thrill of competition diminished for first Gasparilla women's champ 02/21/17 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 21, 2017 6:16pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Florida beats LSU, wins first College World Series title


    OMAHA, Neb. — Florida scored four runs in the eighth inning to pull away from LSU, and the Gators beat their SEC rival 6-1 Tuesday night to complete a two-game sweep in the College World Series finals for their first national title in baseball.

    UF’s Nelson Maldonado, left, and Deacon Liput high-five after a run scores.
  2. As NCAA investigation continues, Baylor dances around sex-assault scandal


    In 1996, Southern Baptist-affiliated Baylor University lifted its 151-year-old ban and allowed dancing on its Waco, Texas campus.

  3. Rays late-night bullpen shuffle: Alvarado, Pruitt down; Kolarek up


    The Rays shuffled their bullpen again after Tuesday's game, sending down struggling LHP Jose Alvarado along with RHP Austin Pruitt to Triple-A Durham, and turning next to LHP Adam Kolarek, who will make his major-league debut at age 28,

  4. Rays journal: Alex Cobb brilliant, Alex Colome worrying in 10-inning victory (w/video)

    The Heater

    PITTSBURGH — RHP Alex Cobb couldn't have been much better for the Rays on Tuesday, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning while working eight solid. And Alex Colome couldn't have been much worse, blowing a two-run ninth-inning lead.

    Rays starter Alex Cobb carries a no-hitter into the seventh and pitches eight shutout innings in his best outing of the season.
  5. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Tuesday's Rays-Pirates game

    The Heater

    RHP Alex Cobb continues to look better and better, which could make the decision whether to trade him tougher. Cobb had a no-hitter through six and threw his biggest pitch with a 1-0 lead in the seventh, getting Josh Bell to roll into a double play.