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Volunteer spurs effort to bring back Run the Reagan road race

SNELLVILLE - Tom Mayfield never liked running.

A high school basketball coach forced Mayfield to join the cross country team. Even now the 40-year-old accountant refers to himself as "more of a jogger than a runner."

He may be no Roger Bannister, first to break the 4-minute mile, but Mayfield can claim a notable achievement in the local running circuit. He helped resurrect Run the Reagan.

The race along Ronald Reagan Parkway in Snellville was postponed indefinitely three years ago. That changes Feb. 18, when at least 2,000 runners are expected at the starting line. The Gwinnett Daily Post is a key Run the Reagan sponsor.

Mayfield defers credit for getting the race back on its feet to Parks Mann, a Run the Reagan founder.

But Mayfield spurred the idea.

It happened last year when he was trying to organize a large race to support one of his passions - Gwinnett Outreach, a Christian church partnership that targets at-risk kids in school.

Mayfield was searching online for a suitable weekend to hold his event when he came across an item about Run the Reagan. After nearly a decade, the race was canceled in 2003.

Mayfield e-mailed Greater Gwinnett Road Runners to find out why. One of the group's leaders, Bob Chaapel, responded and explained what happened. The problem wasn't money or a lack of runners. Run the Reagan volunteers simply burned out.

"It's hard to get that many volunteers organized just for a race," Mayfield said. "You need cause, too - something that will motivate people to get up early and set up water stations, help with parking, registration."

Mayfield had a cause: Gwinnett Outreach. He also had an active group of Gwinnett Outreach volunteers who could round up support from high school clubs and churches.

Mayfield teamed with Mann, who wanted to raise money for Gwinnett Community Clinic. They lined up sponsors, including Emory Eastside Medical Center in Snellville.

Then Mayfield went to meet Gwinnett Commissioner Mike Beaudreau. He waited until a long line of county residents finished venting their frustration about a proposed development.

When Mayfield finally had his chance, he expected the commissioner to brush him aside. Instead, Beaudreau liked the idea.

"He said, 'We can make this happen,'" Mayfield said. "It wasn't the response I expected. I thought I would hear, 'We can't do a race right now. We're dealing with a big fight over development.' I was wrong."

Gwinnett commissioners gave the race the OK last October - much to the delight of Mary Sikes, a Run the Reagan regular.

"I was so disappointed when it went away," Sikes said. "I was running the course before it became the parkway, before it was even paved. It's a great course, with a couple of big hills. And the race itself - it's such a local thing, and that's what make it so cool."