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Claudis Hawkins, 93 -- An Inspirational Icon

Date: 
12/13/2011 - 10:22

By Brooke Nicholls Nelson

hawkins.jpgClaudis Hawkins danced and ran his way through life and straight into the hearts of everyone he met. Before his death at 93 last November, Hawkins was best known in the northeast Alabama area as a runner, but in his hometown of Rainbow City, he was known as an Astaire-caliber dance partner.

Yes, this tall, slender, effervescent nonagenarian could stride through a 5K course and cut a rug with the best of them. The often repeated adjective when describing Hawkins is “inspiring.”

Hawkins’ presence on the local running scene has been missed, but at no race more so than the recent Woodstock 5K, Anniston Runners Club’s signature event and the 2011 Road Runners Club of America’s (RRCA) National 5K Championship in Anniston, AL.

“This year’s Woodstock 5K will be the first one without our iconic picture of ‘yes you can,” said Dennis Dunn, 2011 Race Director, shortly before the August 6 event. “Claudis was motivation and inspiration for each runner that you are never too old to start running or exercising."

Hawkins often told fellow runners he knew he would have died years before if he had not started running at 50 years of age. He credited running and exercise for adding more years to his life, but it was the life he added to those years that is so impressive.

Dunn said, “Claudis lived life to the fullest. His smile could light up any rainy day, and he seldom missed a race-day event. In fact, he ran three 5Ks the month before he passed.”

Nobody loved a cheering crowd more than Hawkins, and because he was a slight bit older than most competitors, he usually had more time out on the courses than other runners to enjoy the cheers. Running was as much a social event for him as a physical challenge.

“Part of the race event over the last 10 years was to stand at the finish and cheer Claudis approaching the finish line,” said Dunn. “Smile beaming, waving his arms and everyone cheering or falling in line to cross the finish with him.”

Cheers were not the only thing Hawkins collected from running more than 600 events, mainly 5K and 10K road races. Shelves of trophies and awards commemorating his efforts at his favorite sport are evidence of jobs well done, and his name is listed next to a handful of Alabama State Running Records, all earned in his 90s.

Hawkins was a proud representative of the Alabama team in the past six National Senior Olympics Games, placing in the top five of his age group for every event, short and long distance courses.

In 2010, he was featured in the publication Running Journal and in the RRCA magazine Club Running. His smiling face still graces the home page of the RRCA’s website.

While Hawkins received a lot of awards and attention for his running achievements, he was an intensely humble man. He would rather talk about his fellow running buddies, a local event or dancing at the Gadsden Senior Center than about himself.

As much as Hawkins enjoyed running, he loved to dance just as much. One can imagine he danced his way to heaven, jitterbugging right through the pearly gates, since dancing is how he spent his last night before peacefully passing away while sleeping, a fitting departure for a man who enjoyed life to the fullest.

Even though he was in his 90s, Hawkins’ mind was still very sharp, never forgetting a name, and he drove himself everywhere he wanted to go in his familiar minivan. He retired from Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company after 35 years of service, was a World War II veteran, a member of First Baptist Church of Gadsden, AL and was a lifetime member of Anniston Runners Club.

So treasured was he by the Anniston Runners Club, they changed the name of one of their most coveted awards to honor their favorite running ambassador. The Claudis Hawkins Lifetime Award is presented yearly to a member who exemplifies dedication to the sport, commitment to promoting the healthy benefits of running and supports the mission of the club.

Hawkins will never be forgotten, and his absence is sorely missed.

Dunn said what so many in the club feel about their beloved running buddy, “You don’t replace Claudis Hawkins, you cherish the times he graced us with his joy for living.”

Brooke Nicholls Nelson is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and three sons in the foothills of Cheaha Mountain. Contact her at brookenelson@amcvets.com.

Photo: Claudis Hawkins, DOB: 7/16/17, DOD 11/20/10.

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