TAMPA — Stuart Carrier did not want to miss this year’s Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic for anything. “The race means that much to me.”
Since the event started in 1978, he has never missed one, and God willing, he never will.
“Every year the race is a life-affirming event,” said Carrier, who recently turned 72. “It would feel so wrong to not run in it. I would feel like something was missing from life if I missed one. I’m so attached to it.”
And for Carrier that means literally running on the actual course, which is what he did in a 5K Saturday morning, less than a day after flying in from his home in Kernersville, N.C.
“I saw where you could do the race virtually on your own, on any course, but that wasn’t for me,” said Carrier, one of a handful of people who has run on every Gasparilla race weekend.
“I was so happy when I saw they were setting up the course on a day (several months after the usual scheduling of the event) where everybody could come and run down Bayshore Boulevard. As soon as I saw that, I said, ‘I will be there.’ "
It’s yet another Gasparilla running story in a long list for Carrier.
Arguably the most interesting occurred in 1982 when he was running the 15K and noticed he had developed a hitch in his gait, along with a pain in his hip. A few days later he went to his doctor, who quickly diagnosed that Carrier had a brain tumor.
The benign tumor was removed soon after the race, and Carrier was quickly back to training.
“I attribute that (1982) race with uncovering the brain tumor,” Carrier said. “If I hadn’t run the race and noticed the asymmetrical balance issue, I don’t know what would have happened. But I ran it and we found it.”
In 1983 he was back on the Gasparilla starting line, and an hour or so later he was beaming with yet another race medal dangling around his neck.
In the following years — most of which he lived in Tampa while teaching English at East Bay High and Saint Leo University — there were more physical obstacles for Carrier, including a bout with prostate cancer and a surgery that infused titanium in his spinal cord.
But no matter what, even after he moved from away from the area several years ago, he never missed the race next to Tampa Bay.
Along the way he has made numerous friends in the Tampa running community and has filed away several unforgettable moments, including in 2017 when he took a photo and conversed with his long-distance running heroes Bill Rodgers (four wins each in the Boston and New York marathons) and Joan Benoit Samuelson (1984 marathon gold medalist).
This year, training has been a challenge during the pandemic, forcing Carrier — who works as an educational leadership professor at National Louis University — to ride more on stationary bikes and run on treadmills (often with the help of video trails).
“I may not have trained as much as I have in past year,” Carrier said. “But that’s okay. We will all get back to our (pre-pandemic) routines, hopefully sooner than later.”
On Saturday, Carrier cruised through his 5K at leisurely pace, taking in “beautiful Bayshore.”
Two other runners who have run in every race — 77-year-old Mike Shaver of Riverview and 79-year-old Tom Singletary of Tampa — were seen shuffling down Bayshore about the same time. But unlike Carrier, they didn’t have to travel from North Carolina to participate.
“It’s well worth the trip,” Carrier said. “I’m happy to make it.”