Travis — party of 70

Travis — party of 70

Those who like their sports stories raw should probably stop reading here.

For what follows involves no blood, no guts and precious little glory.

But there is one heck of a party.

Every Peachtree Road Race includes competitive drama and human triumph as 55,000 souls willingly trek 6.2 miles in the Southern summer swelter.

But when the Travis Group — a loose confederation of family and friends now around 70 strong — begins spinning its Peachtree lore, the tone turns decidedly light.

For instance, there was the moment during last year’s race when Joan Travis, the 51-year-old matriarch of this large running clan, was nearing the finish.

“Joan! Joan!” she heard above the stampede as she was about to make the turn into Piedmont Park.

She spotted two members of her group waving to her from a corner bar, Bloody Marys in their other hands.

“You’ve already finished?” Travis shouted.

“No. But we’ll get around to it,” one of the buddies answered through her laughter.

In advance of next Sunday’s race, Joan Travis has reserved 40 rooms at a Buckhead hotel for her group, not a one of its members the least bit interested in trying to keep up with the Kenyans.

The pizzas are ordered for the night before the race, space at the Italian restaurant has been secured for lunch afterward and the sandwiches will be ready for Sunday night’s fireworks show above Lenox Square Mall.

“It’s a great eating marathon with a 10K in between,” said Joan’s husband, Randy Travis.

“Joan invented post-race carbo-loading,” he added for emphasis.

Theirs is a very committed effort to tap into the light spirit of Atlanta’s great foot race, to celebrate an event that defines the Fourth of July in the grandest style.

They might argue that no one shares the joy of the Peachtree more.

“I just like it when other people are happy. This is like a gift for me,” Joan said, explaining why she turns a little race into a big deal every year.

And then she even got a little philosophical: “The Peachtree is like life. There’s a beginning, and there’s an ending. And all the fun in between is what matters.”

It started with Randy

Her relationship with the race began innocuously enough back in 1993 when Randy, an investigative reporter for Fox 5 News, was diagnosed with diabetes. In an effort to help control his blood sugar, he decided to get serious about his running.

Joan took notice of the spiffy shirt that Randy brought home, his prize for finishing the Peachtree. While he is the most serious runner of the group — and has a Top 1,000 Finisher coffee cup to prove it — Joan just wanted the shirt.

She ran/walked her first in 1995 and was hooked. Every shirt she has earned since, she has framed and mounted in the basement of the couple’s Lawrenceville home.

By the late ’90s, their two young daughters were running, too. Joan’s sister had joined the jog. If we’re going to do this, Joan decided, let’s at least make it fun. They would get hotel rooms in town and turn each Peachtree into a mini-vacation.

As late as 2003, there were but 13 runners on Team Travis. Joan can’t exactly pinpoint the moment she became the Peachtree’s unofficial concierge. For reasons she can’t explain, word got out just how much fun there was to be had if you approach the race like a holiday/banquet/reunion.

This is how a growth wave builds: In 2006, Susan Moody — a Gwinnett swim coach who knew the Travises through coaching their daughters — decided she wanted to join the group.

The next year, her husband and one of her daughters joined for the race and festivities. In 2008, both daughters ran — and they brought friends. Last year, Moody’s mother, 70 years old and working on her second pacemaker, walked the course.

And Moody has begun working on a neighbor and a former college roommate about jumping on board the Peachtree party train.

“It just kind of exploded,” Joan said.

Her husband has suggested gently it is time to think about putting a cap on the number of runners in their group. (Yet, he invited to this year’s race a stranger he met at a race in Florida. They can’t help themselves, these Peachtree evangelists.)

‘Running for Ron’

They all will begin assembling at the hotel Friday afternoon, this year’s group ranging in age from 10 to 77. Most are from nearby, but Arizona, Ohio, the Carolinas and Florida will be represented as well. Many have not seen each other since last year’s race, giving the weekend the feel of a class reunion.

One member of the group who will be sorely missed this year is Joan’s brother-in-law, Col. Ron Rose. He ran with them as recently as last year, but now is on duty in Iraq. He will be remembered on stickers Joan produced that read, “Running For Ron In Iraq And All Our Soldiers.”

When Christine Rose speaks long-distance with her husband, she seldom brings up the race, knowing how much the colonel enjoyed running it and how much he must be missing it now. “He knows we’re going to do it, but we just talk about when he’s coming home and the football games we’re going to see,” she said.

This race and a two-day celebration around it tend to grow on a family. The Roses, for instance, have tried other vacations on the Fourth, but they always seem to come back to the Peachtree.

“It is something we [the Roses and the Travises] do to build camaraderie, to make memories for her kids and my kids,” Rose said. “Maybe they’ll tell their children what we used to do on the Fourth of July. Who knows where they will be then? But they will have that tradition, and, in our family, that’s very important.”

The personality of the Peachtree, once you get past the thin layer of thin runners at the front of the pack, is that of a sweaty party animal. No matter what may be going on in the world at the moment, the Peachtree is always there to provide a guilt-free excuse to blow it out for a day.

It seems in every one of the plentiful running photos around her home, Joan has assumed the same pose. Her arms are not pumping; her face is not distorted with exertion. Rather she is always smiling, with both arms raised overhead — “waving to her subjects,” as her husband puts it.

In case anyone in her ever-expanding group has any doubts about how to approach the weekend, she even set the plan to verse. She included her poem in a little goody bag for everyone doing the Peachtree on the Travis plan.

Those who prefer their poetry lyrical and fraught with meaning should probably stop reading here.

Her ode to the 2010 Peachtree Road Race begins:

“Another year slipped by and now gathering once more,

Some of us first-time Peachtree runners and others hardcore.

It doesn’t matter where you fall in the grouping,

I guarantee at the finish y’all will be whooping!”

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