Mike Fanelli has been a friend to me so long, I cannot remember how long ago we first met. I suspect it was in my road racing days, when my friend circle expanded up to Northern California where I would occasionally go stay at Joan Ullyot’s home, and we’d find a random race to enter. Beyond my own district in LA, the Pacific Association was even more plentiful with club activities. Mike, the runner, kept running logs like I did but did a better job of counting the miles and he recently surpassed his goal of 115,000 miles. Amazing.
My late husband, Tom Sturak, and Mike worked together now and then again, particularly when their mutual friend Pat Devaney put together a promo team in track and field for the Reebok shoe company. The most vital memories that come to mind were from the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, including Mike, Pat, Tom, and Joe Vigil among the group, oh and my young son who they put to work as stock boy.
In following years, our paths would cross at track and field meets everywhere in the country or beyond, in Europe. In recent years, Mike and I joined a committee formed by Gary Corbitt (son of the famous Ted Corbitt), with a mission to preserve the history of our sport. The committee consisted of collectors, librarians, historians, and the like with the common concern about sports libraries, museums and halls of fame that all too often are not sustainable. We cited many instances of neglect and closures. For Mike, naturally, he was looking in hopes of finding a permanent home for his vast collection.
Mike’s collection, which as he told me, began for him in the eighth grade. I believe it currently holds 6,000 artifacts and he told me he packed 125 boxes. Guess what? Mine, by comparison, fit into half-a-dozen boxes when I recently sent a shipment of my own. Well, to be fair, I confined mine to a specific number of years, and I’ve shared other artifacts with a few other institutions, but that’s another story. I only mention this because one of Mike’s final acts was to kindly give me sage advice in my time of need. I was facing a dilema, and he had a different perspective than I did. Basically he put my focus on the facts: life is short, you have bigger fish to fry, don’t overlook what a fortunate woman you are, and (I love this even if it’s not true) “you’re a damn good writer, maybe as good as you were a runner.” He told me to “let go.” And he told me why.
Like many of us whose lives Mike touched, I’ve been browsing our email messages, photos, shared posts in social media, and I’m glad I posted some things, like a couple gifts we exchanged from our collections . . . because now both his and my items are “shipped” for safe keeping. In keeping with the committee mission, we are doing our best to preserve the history of the sport we loved so much, the sport that enriched our lives, and we love to give back to it. Mike, your memory will live on forever, your legend is set, and you’ll always remain in the hearts of your friends.