Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan . Jackson Elementary School first grade teacher Nozomi Wade placed first in her age group during the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship in Kualoa Ranch, Hawaii on Dec. 2. Wade who started running in 2009, finished the half marathon in 2:41:01.
Everybody laughed at her. Well, everyone in her family.
Neither her son nor husband took Nozomi Wade's pronouncement that she would begin running seriously.
"I didn't like to sweat. I didn't like sports, period ..." Nozomi Wade said.
"You didn't like being outside," her husband James interjected.
"I like nice, climate controlled A.C. But I said, 'Yes, I will run,'" she countered in the re-telling.
And that's how it started. Where it ended, at least for now, is at the top.
The Wades were empty-nesters and Nozomi, an elementary school teacher in Gwinnett County, wanted something to fill her time. Her husband started first, then she watched and decided, in that moment, to give it a try.
"My husband and my son, they are going, 'Yeah right.' I guess they thought I would quit in three days," Nozomi Wade said. "I kept running. At first it was just a few blocks."
She took her shoes, GPS and iPod to Japan and ran every day. Then, in September 2009, just months after her first jog through her neighborhood, Nozomi Wade showed up at the Suwanee Day 10K race. In this crowd, her running experiment turned serious.
"It was the first race ever. I have never been in a race and I placed second place in my age group," Nozomi Wade said. "I got the medal and I never turned back. I just kept running and running."
Her running leads her across the state and the nation. She started running trails as well as road races and in 2011 she earned a trip to the XTERRA Trail Run National Championships in Utah. Unlike runners who chase their own times, Nozomi Wade chases other runners. She left Utah with a second-place finish in the 55-59 age group and she left disappointed. Her plan was to win in Utah and head to Hawaii for the national championships.
"I thought, 'I could still go (to Hawaii for the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship)," Wade said. "I just want to see how I fair against all these top trail runners from all over the world. And they did come from all over the world."
So off the Wades went to Kualoa Ranch in Hawaii. The working ranch on O'ahu is a popular site for television and movie shoots. 'Jurassic Park,' 'Lost,' 'Hawaii Five-O' and 'Pearl Harbor' all used the ranch for filming. The trail race winds up and through rain forests, along beaches and up the side of a mountain. The course gets so steep, most runners stop and walk for brief, or more, portions.
More than 50 years old and a three-year running veteran, Nozomi Wade took off along the course and finished the race in 2 hours, 41.01 minutes, a 12-minute mile pace. She hung around for the awards, mostly to see how her time faired with the rest of her age group, but her competitiveness lingered in her mind.
"The MC announced third-place winner and it was last year's champion and I was like 'Aww,'" Wade said. "Then the second-place winner, she announced someone from Hawaii. By then I am totally crestfallen and I am thinking, 'Why did I think that I would even medal?'"
They weren't announcing times.
"And then, the MC goes 'And in first place from the state of Georgia,' ... and there weren't too many people from the state of Georgia ... 'Nozomi Wade.' I was jumping up and down. I had people say they had never seen anyone look so happy."
When she returned to school, her first-graders at Jackson Elementary gave her another prize, a "huge" medal they constructed from paper, a fitting honor for a runner fueled by winning.
Wade gets up every morning and runs about five miles. On the weekends she runs closer to 13. Along her neighborhood paths she can't muster too much speed. She needs the person in front of her, begging to be caught. She went camping at Yellowstone National Park and has run races in lightning storms and freezing temperatures.
"Prior to (running), I would not stay in a hotel that didn't have a lots of stars on them," Wade said.
That's why everyone laughed.
"It was so amazing because five years ago, if we had a crystal ball, and someone said, 'You are going to be running, you are going to be going to Hawaii and become the world champion in your division,' We would have said, 'No way,'" Wade said. "It wasn't that I didn't like to do things like that. It was not in my realm."