When the Japanese track and field community saw the news flash across the internet on March 22 about the King Soopers shooting in Boulder that claimed the lives of 10 victims, some of the elite runners in Japan felt a sad pang of recognition.
Many Japanese athletes have come to Boulder during the past four decades, living and training here on their way to Olympic and World Championship glory. They shopped at King Soopers. Some knew Teri Leiker, an outgoing employee at the store, who lost her life in the tragedy.
The Japanese athletes’ shock quickly turned to action. Spurred by Naoko Takahashi and Mizuki Noguchi, the 2000 and 2004 Olympic marathon gold medalists; Olympic silver and bronze marathon medalist Yuko Arimori; three-time Olympian Harumi Hiroyama; Olympic coach Masahiko Takahashi; and Tokyo Marathon race director Tadaaki Hayano, the “Boulder Strong Japan” fundraising movement quickly coalesced, raising 2.1 million yen. or about $20,000.
The six committee members, all of whom have strong ties to Boulder, asked Brendan Reilly, the local liaison in arranging the yearly training camps, to coordinate an appropriate way to disburse the funds while honoring the victims, their families and the community.
In discussion with other runners, Reilly noted that Leiker was a Special Olympics athlete and that two-time Olympic medalist Arimori, a past Boulder homeowner, is board chair of Special Olympics Japan. The idea for a race clicked, and Reilly began making contact with the city, Teri’s parents (mom) Margie and (stepdad) Tom Whittington, and others. With their support, and that of Boulder Road Runners All Comers track meet director Todd Straka, the inaugural Teri Leiker Memorial Mile began.
The mile is set for Thursday evening as part of the final BRR All Comers track meet of the summer. It is expected to include several runners from Boulder’s EXPAND program, and runners and walkers of all abilities are encouraged to come run. The Mile will be the penultimate event of the track meet, which includes a full slate of events. The meet starts at 6 p.m. with the Teri Leiker Memorial Mile set to go off about 8 p.m. (boulderroadrunners.org). Entry fees and awards for the next decade are covered by the Boulder Strong Japan, funds.
“While not the size of some of the very generous support programs for the victims and their families, Japan’s crowd-funding was a nice success in its own right,” Reilly said in an email. “Many of the donors from the Japanese running community look on Boulder as their American hometown.”
When Reilly wrote to the Boulder Strong Japan committee with the general plans for the mile, the response was instantaneous and positive from Masa Takahashi, head coach of the Japan Post professional team as well as a 2016 and 2020 Olympic coach. His two children graduated from the University of Colorado, and during the family’s years living near Viele Lake in South Boulder, the family “knew Teri well from her work at ‘their’ King Soopers,” as Reilly explained. He immediately wrote to the other Olympians on the committee. “Masa and everybody there is very enthusiastic that part of their donations are going to this.”
The March 29 fundraising letter that the Boulder Strong Japan committee sent out, reads in part:
“We are deeply saddened to hear about the horrific shooting in Boulder, and we would like to express our sincere condolences and sympathies to the victims and to the entire community.
“We learned from news within Japan that among the victims was a police officer in line of duty, who is a father of seven. Our hearts ache with sorrow not only for the victims but for the victims’ families and loved ones.
“Boulder is a city cherished by different running communities throughout the world, including Japan. Many Japanese athletes have achieved wonderful results because the Boulder community has always been welcoming and supportive to our athletes going there for high-altitude training. For athletes and staff, Boulder is an important and memorable place, and we would greatly appreciate it if you could join us to express our support for the victims.”
Added Reilly, “I think this new mile speaks well of the Boulder community and Boulder Road Runners by recognizing a segment of the running community that often has to look for separate events for competition and participation. I am so glad that Margie and Tom were enthusiastic for the idea. I also like that it seeks to create a long-term legacy event in Teri’s name, one that hopefully a decade from now will be thriving and inspiring new athletes and keeping memories of her alive.”
Follow Michael Sandrock on Instagram: @MikeSandrock.