Gotta Run: Historic Winter Flight takes to the roads on Sunday

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 29, 2022

When preparing this column, I spent a few minutes looking back over some of the historic aspects of Salisbury’s Winter Flight races. This year’s 39th Annual 8K, 5K and half mile fun run will take off Sunday, Jan. 30, with about 400 total runners, including multiple wheelchairs and kids, 12 and under. Title sponsor for the races continues to be New Sarum Brewing Company from Salisbury. About 30 businesses and individuals also sponsor the long running event with all proceeds going to Rowan Helping Ministries. RHM will have a big volunteer presence at the event.

A friend and I spent some time recapping the early history of the 8K, this year’s Road Runners Club of America North Carolina State Championship. Early on, the race was organized by the Greater Salisbury Track Club, the forerunner to the current Salisbury Rowan Runners. In 1981, the first race using the name Winter Flight was actually a 5K distance. Then in 1984, the real Winter Flight winter race was born, with 5-mile and 10-mile races in the downtown and Salisbury High School area.

In 1986, Winter Flight moved to Catawba College. I remember some talk about why this was done, but except for last year’s COVID substitution event in Millbridge, the historic 8K has continued to use the Catawba start and finish. All but for the one year while the new stadium was being refurbished and the track was not accessible. Also in 1986, Winter Flight became part of the Tar Heel Tour, a series of varied distance races over a year’s time that resulted in state championships by 10-year age groups.

The year 1989 brought a six-week delay for the local measles epidemic. Course record holders, both Olympians, set lofty standards for future runners. In 1988, Hans Koeleman of the Netherlands set the men’s standard of 23 minutes and 34 seconds. Joan Nesbitt of Tarboro set the women’s mark of 26.48 in 1992.

The 1996 event was postponed due to heavy snowfall. In 1998, Pete Gibson won the race in 26 minutes and 54 seconds. Gibson will be competing this year in the 65-69 year age group.

In 2002, the National Guard was the title sponsor of Winter Flight and provided a very special memory for me. As club president, I got to fly to Catawba College in a Blackhawk helicopter with an airborne demonstration of the craft along the way. We landed on the football field alongside Apache and Ranger helicopters. Humvees and Bradley fighting vehicles were also on hand. At race start, three Blackhawks flew over just as the starting pistol was fired.

My most challenging day as a race director came at the 2005 Winter Flight when heavy snowfall began to fall on the evening before the race. With internet communication in infant status, a group of SRR members divided the massive participant list and called every single registrant with updates and an eventual postponement.

The races continue with a mix of serious and competitive runners along with those who enjoy being around like-minded health-conscious runners and walkers. Sunday’s event, with runners from at least four states, offers something for runners and walkers of all capabilities. Look for more information at or by calling 704-310-6741. Each 8K and 5K participant will get another in the series of the amazing Meredith Abramson-designed hoodies.

Runners to watch this year are Matthew and Jonathan Martin of China Grove, Sam Lloyd-Perks of King and Ryan Jank of Mooresville in the lead pack. Gibson, of Murfreesboro, is back as well as Dick Rosen of Greensboro who will be seeking a state record for males, 90 and over.

If interested in participating, registration will be available in the Catawba College gym until 1:45 p.m. The kids’ fun run starts at 1:30 p.m. on the track while the wheelchairs take off at 1:58 p.m. All 8K and 5K runners start at 2 p.m. All finishes are in Shuford Stadium.

This is Rowan’s biggest and best running event. Spectators are welcome and I will hope to see you there!