Stoney Creek resident meets famed ultramarathon runner
Published 8:55 am Monday, June 22, 2015
It was sheer happenstance that Stoney Creek resident Val Deaton was at the right local AT crossing when world-renowned ultramarathon runner Scott Jurek sprinted through Carter County’s portion of the Appalachian Trail earlier this month.
“My son Jeff called and said, ‘Mom, he’s on the run and you might be able to catch him,’ ” she said.
And catch him she did.
Val woke up June 4 with a mission to try to find Jurek, who is attempting to beat the speed record for completing the entire Appalachian Trail.
“When I got up, I thought, ‘What are the odds?’ ” she said.
She had her son Jeff Deaton giving her intel about where and what time he might make it to various AT road crossings like Dennis Cove Road in Hampton, Shady Valley and where they ultimately met — near Watauga Dam.
“I went bebopping on up through there, and then I noticed a van that had Run Healthy on it,” she said. “It was backed up with the back doors open toward the trail.”
As she drove past, Val called Jeff to tell him she thought she found the van. At first, Val was a little shy about approaching the vehicle, but she found the courage to go back.
“When I walked up, I could see legs hanging out of the back,” she said. “I thought there would be a crew waiting there and I was going to ask them when they expected him to come through.”
As she walked up, she announced her presence hoping she didn’t startle the person sitting there.
“That’s when he stuck his head out,” she said. “I said, ‘Scott?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ Then I said, ‘I cannot believe I found you.’ ”
Jurek smiled at Val and welcomed her into his temporary camp.
“He could have brushed me off, but he didn’t,” she said. “He was so nice you wouldn’t believe it. He was very accommodating.”
Val also met Jurek’s wife, Jenny, who meets him at all the road crossings to make sure he stays hydrated, nourished and energized, Val said.
“It was totally unreal,” Val said. “They were super, super nice. He did say that she really had to do all the hard work.”
Jurek asked his wife to take the photo of him and Val.
“He put his arm right around me,” Val said.
Val then asked Jurek if he would be willing to give her his autograph. He agreed.
Luckily, Jeff had told Val to print off a photo of Jurek to take with her just in case she did meet him.
“I was just so excited,” she said. “Really, what were the odds of actually finding him? I figured I would drive around all day and never find him.”
While she is thankful to have found him, she couldn’t help but wish her son could have had that one-on-one experience with Jurek.
“When he finishes a race, you can’t even get near him for all the people,” she said. “I just couldn’t believe it.”
All Val could think about while she was with Jurek was how much this would mean the countless other people who are passionate about ultramarathon running and more importantly, Jeff, who has participated in a total of three 100-mile races.
“I’ve been reading a lot about him now because of this,” she said. “I can’t image how people who really know something about ultramarathon running would have felt. I felt so honored. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, Jeff is going to die. I told him about how much Jeff admires him.”
Val was not completely clueless about all of Jurek’s accomplishments, Jeff said.
“He’s one of the greatest ultramarathoners of all time,” he said. “She knew that because she read his entire book called ‘Eat & Run,’ which is a New York Times best seller. She knew all about him.”
Jeff was thrilled about how much his mother appreciated all of the book’s insights into Jurek’s tales and trials throughout his running career. Val was most intrigued by his motivations to run, which include his mother and assisting the blind in running endeavors.
“His patience for running comes from those motives,” she said.
She was also fascinated by the fact that he is vegan. Jeff has even implemented some of Jurek’s eating habits into his own running regimen, he said.
The first time Val learned about ultramarathon running, she was baffled.
“I thought it was the craziest thing to push your body like that,” she said.
However, she learned through watching her son accomplish his first 100-mile race just how important it is to some people.
“You come to understand once they finish that race that it’s an exhilarating feeling,” she said.
Val and Jeff are even more hooked on the sport and plan to continue following Jurek’s journey.
“(Getting to meet Jurek) makes it even more special,” Jeff said. “I think it’s a really special thing that happened.”
That day, Jurek made it all the way to Damascus from Dennis Cove Road, Val said. Jurek’s total distance that day was 50 miles, according to his Facebook page.
The day before, Jurek had been on the AT for 9 days when he left Carvers Gap. He posted a photo of Hump Mountain on his Facebook page with the caption that read, “Carvers Gap had some of the best views I’ve seen so far from several open balds, a really beautiful section.” He reported that he left the gap at 6:16 a.m. and arrived at Dennis Cove Road at 8:22 p.m. He had hiked a total of 38.8 miles that day. Jurek is currently tackling the longest section of the AT — Virginia.
Even weeks later, Val was still ecstatic about the chance meeting.
Val said she made sure to encourage Jurek upon leaving the scene of their encounter.
“I wished him luck on the trail and to be safe,” she said. “I hope he makes it and breaks the record.”