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'Constant inspiration' to running family

At the age of 33, Dave Kartalia was a man with unhealthy habits, so he began running.

Living in Chevy Chase at the time, he frequented the tracks and streets of the area. He had no role model, no running buddies and no acquaintances to share his interest, though he would be the last in his family to suffer such a fate.

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By the time I met Dave in the early 1980s, he was in his forties and living in Westminster. I grew to know him through the local races where we'd see one another.

I regret it now, but I didn't appreciated how talented he was. I was winning many of the local races at the time, and my young, naïve self was more focused on those I was chasing than those who trailed behind me.

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Dave nearly broke sixty minutes for ten miles, ran eighteen minutes and change on challenging 5K courses, and boasted a marathon PR of 3:07. He was an athlete.

Also hidden behind the veil of my limited awareness was a young runner who was growing in the Kartalia house, Dave's son, Steve.

I first met Steve when he was a rising star at Westminster High School. I recently asked him how his father had influenced him as he first started running. "Profoundly and daily," was his response.

In the summer before Steve's freshman year, Dave woke his son for morning runs at 5:30. Dave was patient and encouraging, but he also demanded a certain level of commitment. Steve liked it. "It was a fun version of boot camp," he said.

Dave also taught Steve to keep a running log, a habit that's continued to this day. Ask Steve what he ran on any day between now and then and he'll be able to tell you with some level of detail.

Steve's too modest to suggest this himself, but he's arguably the most credentialed runner ever raised in Carroll County.

By the time he graduated from high school, he was a two-time state cross-country champion and earned the same honor at two-miles on the track.

He went on to run for Wake Forest University, where he earned All-Conference honors and remains on the top performers list. He's an Olympic Trials qualifier at 10K and the marathon, and he still owns the fastest 8K time ever run in the state of South Carolina.

Time has passed since those days. Sometimes, when we're running together, Steve and I will reminisce about the old days. We'll talk about the great local runners who inspired us.

Even more often, we'll talk about what running has become to us, how it's impacted our personal development and enlightened us about the ways of life.

In recent years Steve has found a new running partner in his daughter, Anna. "It's a highlight of my running these days," Steve told me.

When Emma first showed an interest in running Steve found it hard to hide his emotions. He kept thinking to himself, "I hope she loves it as much as I have, and I hope I can control my excitement enough to not screw it up for her."

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I asked Emma how her dad has influenced her, and she revised the question to her own liking. "I can only assume you mean inspire," she said.

"My dad's a constant inspiration to me, always being there and always willing to share his incredible wisdom in the ways of running."

Emma, now representing the third generation in her family, enjoys running because it helps her meditate and think, not to mention strive to find the best in herself.

Over the holidays Steve took Emma to a team practice. Since she was the only girl doing her workout, he kept her company by running in lane two for a 12-lap tempo run.

He could hear his daughter working and responding to the encouragement of her coach. And afterward, he saw her excitement as she realized how her great workout was an indication of what she might accomplish this season.

"I could totally relate to that feeling," Steve said.

When I asked Dave about the benefits he's gained through running, his answer wasn't what I expected. "As it turns out," he said, "I was the founder of a family tradition."

Though not everyone in the family runs, many do, and it provides common experiences that each can relate to. And even those who don't run add a strong measure of support.

Anna put it well. "I've learned that running is something that can go in and out of your life and still remain important."

Important may even be an understatement. Life changing, or in this case, lineage changing seems more fitting.

This life is often defined by the relationship we have with ourselves and with others, because what we share moves freely through generations. Remember that, and share wisely.

Dave Griffin is the Times' running writer and coordinator of the Flying Feet Running Programs. His column appears every other Sunday. Email him at dpgflyingfeet@aol.com

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