Running Man

Jeph Abara started running as a child, and he hasn’t stopped since. (Photo: Kenneth Perkins)

Growing up in his Nigerian village,

Jeph Abara had but one mode of transportation: his feet. He ran. Everywhere. To the store. To school. To a friend’s house. He ran early morning, late at night, when the sun was shining, when it was tucked behind rain clouds.

When he arrived in the U.S. to attend Ohio State University in 1963, the cross-country coach told him thanks, but no thanks. Too small, too frail, too fragile to handle the grueling rigors of cross-country hill running.

No matter. While earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering and later a master’s degree in industry engineering from OSU along with a doctoral degree in operations research from the University of Pittsburgh, Abara ran anyway.

Landing in Arlington in 1979 to work for American Airlines, Abara did what he had always done – run – sometimes before work, sometimes after, always on the weekends where time was a friend. While a 5K guy, he ran the Boston Marathon, the Cowtown in Fort Worth and the White Rock Marathon.

It wasn’t until retirement from American after 23 years that he organized a race for his Mount Olive Baptist Church, and his ministry began.

People began coming to him to put on their races,

and Abara would oblige, slowly forming his passion into a business that helped raise money for charities.

Abara is now the go-to guy for road races in Arlington, mostly at River Legacy. If you run in Arlington races you’ve no doubt seen the slender, white-bearded Abara and his small army of workers directing, cheerleading, tallying up results.

The races he organizes has raised money for Mission Arlington, Arlington Life Shelter, H.O.P.E., veterans groups, schools, churches and a host of other charities to the tune of nearly $15,000 a year. For Abara, it’s not about making money for himself.

His regular emails listing upcoming races

have become something of an inspirational devotional, where he shares heartwarming pleas of servitude, faith and devotion. Don’t just come and run a race for you, he says – do it for others, whether it is contributing financially to causes or bringing along a friend who needs to at least begin an exercise program.

“People run for a lot of different reasons,” Abara says as we sit at a park bench at River Legacy, watching people walk, run and ride bikes.

“They do it to lose weight or just to stay healthy. Some do it just for the love of running. What’s great about running is how it’s a very inclusive activity. Unlike baseball or tennis, [where] you need two people. To run all you need is shorts, shirt and shoes. You’re in business. It’s a beautiful activity.”

Abara, 71, even attributes his running lifestyle to extending his life. Several years ago he developed prostate cancer, which he outran, and he is recently in a footrace with lung cancer (He’s currently in remission.) Amid chemotherapy sessions, he laced up his running shoes and hit the road, going as far as his stamina would take him.

He’s certain that his cardiovascular system was helped immensely by his overall health due to his passion.

The other factor is a positive attitude,

sustained by his faith. While some might get down over having lung cancer without one puff of a cigarette, Abara knows that “our days are gifts from God” and that it is God’s Will that allows us to get up each morning.

  ”I believe in the miracle of medicine, but more of God’s grace and goodness,” Abara says. “I always try and have a positive attitude even when I’m in pain or just not feeling well. Knowing that God will always take care of you, you have to be positive about that. That’s really the secret to living well.”

Kenneth Perkins

Columnist Kenneth Perkins has been a contributing writer for Arlington Today since it debuted. He is a freelance writer, editor and photographer.