Towne Salute: Neal Hinkle | Annapolis Striders
Jul 01, 2018 12:00AM
● By Brian Saucedo
By Tom Worgo
For someone who has become one of the faces of the Annapolis Striders running club, 81-year-old Neal Hinkle got off to an inauspicious start in 1977. He began running regularly a little later in life than your average strider. He was 40 years old and concerned about his health.
“I didn’t want to gain a lot of weight and I thought by running I would be able to keep my weight down,” he recalls. “I started running on my own. I didn’t even have running shoes.”
Fast forward about four decades later: He competed in more than a dozen marathons as a younger man and these days, he routinely puts in up to 15 hours per week with the Striders as a volunteer. In 2010, the Road Runner Club of America honored him with a “National Outstanding Volunteer” award for more than 2,000 hours of volunteer service for the some 1,200-member organization.
“We would be a different organization without him,” says Tom Dekornfeld, president of the Annapolis Striders board of directors, who refers to Hinkle as “an all-star volunteer.”
“He’s consistently there, race after race,” DeKornfeld adds. “He almost always makes himself available.”
But Hinkle’s greatest contribution to the 40-year-old club has been community outreach. The Striders, which promotes “physical fitness and mental well-being through long-distance running,” helps nonprofits, such as charities, elementary schools, and community associations, organize their own races. For these organizations, the races serve as fund raising events and also give the Striders an opportunity to promote the health and recreational benefits of running.
“Our support for community races is all him,” DeKornfeld says of Hinkle. “It’s a big part of our footprint in the community. A lot of people know the Striders through the 24 community races we put on every year. Ninety percent of that is Neal’s effort.”
The work that the Millersville resident does for the non-strider races might not be glamorous, but is greatly appreciated. He meets representatives from the various organizations at the Striders’ storage facility on West Street. There, Hinkle provides them with the equipment they need: a digital clock with a stand, a timing machine, banners, and cones. He also trains them on how to use the equipment.
The Striders charge just $50 for the equipment rental and $150 if Hinkle comes out with the equipment to keep times for the race. “We only do it for nonprofits,” Hinkle explains. “If they have a (professional) timer come in it’s going to cost them a minimum of five hundred dollars. With our help, they don’t have to pay a fortune.”
Hinkle gets as excited about helping the community groups—including making appearances at elementary schools—as he was about running in all the races he’s competed in over the years. “I enjoy doing it because it keeps me busy,” Hinkle says. “I meet people and I’m involved with the running community—especially the younger running community. I also help out on putting on five cross-country high school races in the summer that are free to the student runners who will be running on the same courses during the season.”
The Annapolis Striders’ hierarchy appreciates Hinkle’s efforts for the club, as well. The club puts on 22 of its own races each year, including the B&A Trail Marathon and Half-Marathon, Dawson’s Father’s Day 10K, and the Annapolis Ten-Mile Run. Hinkle has served as vice president of races for five years and as race director of the Father’s Day 10K for an additional five years.
“I can be useful because I have so much experience in doing a race,” Hinkle says. “I know all the different jobs that are involved in doing a race. You need to buy food, get permits. I put out mile markers. I was a course monitor. I helped with parking and scoring. There are multitude of things you have to do to put on a race. It’s not easy.”
Long before he began organizing races, Hinkle ran in his share of them. He participated in the Marine Corps Marathon 12 times and the Maryland Marathon twice. His last race was the Mercy Run to Remember 5K in 2015. Nowadays, he also stays busy working out at Gold’s Gym in Marley Station Mall and is an active member of the Holy Trinity Church in Glen Burnie. “He is more dedicated to helping others than just about anybody I’ve ever met,” DeKornfeld says.