It probably comes as no surprise to anyone who knows him, but on Aug. 29, Ellicottville’s John Chew was inducted into the Western New York Runners Hall of Fame.
This distinct honor comes to a person whom many credit for bringing long-distance running to Western New York.
Said Tom Donnelly, president of the Hall of Fame, “John has been one of the most visible contributors to the sport in our area for decades — both as an advocate and as coach to Olympians and World Cup runners. His efforts have really set him apart.”
Chew got involved with coaching immediately upon his arrival in the U.S. from London with wife Monica to work as a mechanical engineer with General Motors in Lockport.
During the 1960s, he coached numerous champion runners, including All-American Buffalo State runners, the Pfiel brothers; Don Howieson, the 2:12 marathoner for the Canadian Olympic team; Jennifer Colgrove-Martin, the three-time 2:34 marathoner who represented the U.S. team in the World Cup Marathon and 15K in Stavanger, Norway; and David O’Keeffe, who ran for the U.S. team at the World Cup Marathon in Spain and in the World Cross Country Championships in New Zealand.
Both Colgrove-Martin and O’Keefe are inductees of the WNY Runners Hall of Fame, along with Chew.
In 1966, Chew formed the Lockport Track Club as a registered AAU Club to develop distance runners. This was a real challenge in those days when anyone outside the school system was restricted from working with runners except during the school year.
“I felt strongly that the only way young athletes can make it is to train year round,” said Chew.
Perhaps to prove this notion, two years later Chew had put together a team of eight high school runners to make a record attempt on the 100-mile relay. Their record of 7:27:55.6 still stands to this day, and, Chew is pleased to say, seven of those “lads,” as he still calls them, attended the Hall of Fame induction ceremony to support their coach.
In 1980, Chew served as race director for the U.S. Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials. Due to his team’s success and Chew’s advocacy, he managed to bring the 1984 Olympic Trials to Buffalo/Niagara Falls — the first time the area was awarded this honor. During that event, he was head coach of the U.S. National Team.
Chew’s coaching has taken him far beyond the borders of Western New York. His first international assignment was as coach of the USA Junior team for the World Cross Country Championships in Paris in 1980. He then served as head coach at the Men’s and Juniors World Cross Country Championships in 1985 in Lisbon, Portugal, where he also was responsible for managing the women’s team.
After Lisbon, Chew took the teams to Milan, Italy, for the famous cross-country race, Cinque Mulini. He also managed the USA team for the 10K de La Sante in Montreal, Canada, and managed Matt Hellerer, the sole U.S. representative in the 1985 Tokyo marathon.
In Ellicottville, meanwhile, Chew and another local runner, Evan Evans, organized a fall 5K road race in 1977 that now takes place every year on Fall Festival weekend.
“I’m proud that we started this race and that it remains so popular,” Chew says.