By Doug Hawley
When someone comes all the way from Pensacola, Fla., to Dalton as a first-time half marathon participant, it gets your attention.
Natalie Russo — a 1996 Dalton High School graduate who competed in a single season of track and field for the Lady Catamounts — made that journey for Saturday’s fourth annual Dalton Red Carpet races, which took place on a frigid morning. Russo drove nearly 500 miles Thursday to reach the Carpet Capital.
“I always wanted to run a half marathon,” Russo said. “What better time to do this than my hometown on my birthday weekend? What better way to celebrate my 36th birthday?”
Russo’s birthday was Friday, but she saved most of her celebrating for Saturday.
“I didn’t want to eat that much Friday before the race,” a smiling Russo said shortly after completing her 13.1-mile race.
“I will eat a whole lot today with the race behind me.”
Her parents, Marcye and Ron Haire, were scheduled to be Russo’s hosts later in the day.
Russo finished back in the pack with a time of two hours, 54 minutes and four seconds. However, it’s doubtful that any participant was happier.
“I loved it,” she said. “I just wanted to finish under three hours. I was particularly pleased to see all of the cops out there helping on the roads.”
Russo was not excited about the cold weather.
“Today it was maybe 73 degrees in Pensacola,” she said with a chuckle. “Today certainly was my coldest day of the year.”
Russo said that she owes a lot to her husband, Ricardo, for his inspiration.
“We used to do some running together,” she said. “Then he suffered a bad leg injury while in the Navy in Afghanistan in 2010. He has had two skin grafts. He can walk but with a cane. We will never run together again. I had hoped that he would be able to come with me on this trip, but he was not able to travel.”
Several other participants also completed their first half marathon. Philipe Aldahir, a 28-year-old graduate student at Auburn University, still proudly calls his native country of Brazil home. He was the only known participant who represented a foreign country Saturday.
Regarding his decision to make the trip from Auburn, he said, “I was particularly impressed with the causes that the money is going to. It seemed a good time to run the half. I just wanted to have fun and complete the race.”
Race proceeds will help local charities City of Refuge and Family Promise.
Aldahir ran a solid 1:45.44 while finishing fourth in the 25-29 age division.
“It was chilly in the beginning,” he said. “My tropical makeup is more for warmer weather. The course was good and the event well-organized.”
Danielle Norton, a 41-year-old Dalton resident, gave plenty of credit for her half marathon debut to running partner Rosa Amos. Norton and Amos completed the race together.
“Rosa and I work out almost every day together,” Norton said. “She had run several half marathons. I felt OK until mile 10 and wanted to stop. She wouldn’t let me stop, and we finished together.”
They came in at 2:22.30.
“Rosa is my big motivator,” Norton said. “She’s my little pusher.”
Dalton’s Edis Krnjic, 27, had been competing in road races for the past year, but the longest one before Saturday was four miles.
“It just seemed time to do the longer race,” said Krnjic, who finished in 2:09.43. “I started training for it about three or four months ago.”