'A homecoming': Peoria native is the only athlete to run in every Steamboat Classic road race (2024)

Dave EminianPeoria Journal Star

PEORIA — Bev Enslow will remain one-of-a-kind as the 50th Steamboat Classic launches on the streets of downtown Peoria on Saturday.

Thousands of runners have competed in the storied race's half-century history. But Enslow is the only athlete to compete in all of them. To commemorate that, she'll run Saturday's race wearing bib No. 50.

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"Somewhere around 15 years in, I kind of realized it was a streak," said Enslow, 67, a Germantown Hills resident. "Then it was 'How long can you keep it going?'

"After 35 years it shifted to something I believed I had to keep going. Steamboat is the challenge to be better. You win the first one, it's a carrot to do better things."

It's been that and more for Enslow over the years. She has won age-group titles twice in the 15k (1980, 1982), three times in the 4-mile (1977, 1978, 1981) and once in the inaugural distance race when it was 9.45 miles (1974).

"That first race in 1974 was so meaningful, I was a junior in high school and I belonged to an after-school track and field club called the Peoria Pacettes," she said. "It was pre-Title IX but I had a coach, Dave Miller, who was a PE teacher in the Peoria school district system and wasn't afraid to let girls run distances."

Miller promised Enslow that he'd run the 9.45 miles with her if she entered. She did, and he ran alongside until the last mile, then left her.

"I was the only female who entered the 9.45 race that first year," Enslow said. "No one ever expected a woman to run that far. So when the race ended they did not even have an award for it. They had to go make one and give it to me later."

Running in her heart

Enslow started running in 1970 and ended up being a pioneer for women in the pre-Title IX era.

She ran for Richwoods High School in her senior year, when girls track was finally offered, and finished third in the state in the 2-mile. Enslow went on to earn a full ride running for Western Illinois and was inducted into the Leathernecks' Hall of Fame in 1997.

She went to nationals with the Pacettes in the late 1970s and early 80s. She was sponsored by companies on the Bonnie Bell (10K) and Avon (longer distances) road racing series for women, which laid the groundwork to make the women's marathon an Olympic event in 1984.

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In 1985 she ran her 4-mile personal best in the Steamboat, turning in a 21:41 effort that was second only to British marathoner Priscilla Welch, who had finished sixth in the 1984 Olympics in L.A.

"That was my proudest race, in 1985, I ran my personal best," Enslow said. "They had started to bring in Olympians to the Steamboat. I finished second to the Olympian (Welch). It was a great moment for me."

Enslow has run the Chicago Marathon, New York City Marathon, California International Marathon and Memphis Marathon, winning the latter.

In 1998 she was part of the inaugural induction class for the Steamboat Classic.

Biking up a volcano, swimming the ocean and more

A knee injury when she was 31 impacted her running, and set the stage for a different athletic path later on. She never stopped running in the Steamboat, but her competitive nature pushed her to swimming 1,500 meters in the ocean, biking 25k up a volcano and a 10k trail run.

"When my running started to fail I started to do road triathlons, then off-road triathlons and picked up biking," she said. "Cycling has been my passion.

"I was doing adventure racing in the early 2000s. That was teams traveling by different modes (bike, foot, canoe, kayak, kick bikes, rollerblades, climbing, rappel). My race distances ranged in hours from 8 to 40."

She is a five-time world champion in her age group in the Xterra World Championships off-road triathlon circuit. And she does endurance biking up to 100 miles in distance.

"I'm a competitor," Enslow said.

But always, she has come back to the Steamboat Classic.

Running for Mel

There was a time when Enslow was not the only remaining runner to compete in every Steamboat since its inception. Up until 2013, Danville resident Mel Schriefer and St. Louis resident Jerry Kokesh, like Enslow, had also appeared in every Steamboat race.

Kokesh stopped racing after COVID. Enslow said he just lost his love for the race after the pandemic. Schriefer, approaching 80, stopped running after the 35th Steamboat.

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"But I found out he was still registering, buying entry into the race, for years after that," Enslow said. "He had already done that again in 2021, but he died in May of that year. His son-in-law and daughter picked up his race bib and gave it to me.

"I added it to my own, wore it for the race, so that Mel could be with us out there in a way. When I look at old pictures of us, it brings me to tears."

The one she almost missed

Enslow's streak is intact, but there was a close call in 1993.

She was living in Peoria in the early 1990s and in a career as a medical technologist, working second shift at a Macomb hospital. She returned home at 1 a.m. on race morning, and set her alarm for 6 a.m.

"I just didn't hear it go off," she said, laughing. "When I woke up I slid into my clothes, grabbed my car keys and raced downtown. I was standing at the corner on the start line still pinning my bib on, and not two seconds later the race started. As close a call as you can have."

She made it through that race, and soon left the medical career behind. She answered a newspaper ad offering computer programming training. That led to a job as an IT consultant for Caterpillar in 2000. She retired 19 years later.

On to Steamboat No. 50.

"This year, I'm in the 4-mile," she said. "I had decided to walk with friends and family, my husband, former triathlete friends. I've got a full house.

"What I enjoy about the Steamboat is seeing friends once a year I used to run with. It's grounding. Peoria's my hometown. The race has evolved over the years. It started as a community event, became an international race. But it's always been a homecoming for me."

Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers Bradley men's basketball, the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. He can be reached at 686-3206 or deminian@pjstar.com. Follow him on X.com @icetimecleve.

'A homecoming': Peoria native is the only athlete to run in every Steamboat Classic road race (2024)


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