Running In Place - Page 10
Completing the first of the race's three laps, Engle, not surprisingly, felt reasonably strong, but lap two of the hilly course had him suffering, wondering if he could survive another. Yet he did—and won the race. Engle jokes, "I had finally found a sport so obscure that I was good at it." It was fall of that year that Engle watched the Discovery Channel Eco-Challenge show, and his life of endurance began.
Aside from the visible lights of race finishes and Hollywood films, though, Engle's most enduring legacy my be the least known. Among those in attendance that Saturday night in Greensboro, before his sentencing was Lester Pace, 52, of Burlington, North Carolina, a fraternity brother of Engle's at Chapel Hill, where he says they were always "going 110 miles an hour." Pace was at Engle's side during some of his darkest addiction days, and Engle subsequently influenced Pace to pursue sobriety as well. "Charlie spoke at my one-year [sobriety] anniversary, and again at my nine-year anniversary," says Pace. "I give him a lot of credit for how my life turned out.
"There is a serenity and comfort in being of use to others, and that is the motivation for the charitable things Charlie has done. All his [post-sobriety] endeavors have had an altruistic bent."
At dinner at a restaurant across the street before Engle's talk, Liz Lindsay of Greensboro, who runs Janes on the Run women's running schools, says Engle has inspired many area runners to get into ultras. "He has spoken many times to my running classes," she says. "He often runs with my groups, too, which are typically out-of-shape, middle-aged women."
Not present at Engle's gathering was Norma Bastidas, 43, now of Vancouver, Canada, an accomplished ultrarunner, and Engle's recent ex-fiancÃ©. She had had just undergone a third surgery on her hand, badly broken while trail running. She appeared, though, via a video message.
Bastidas, who met Engle through her close friend and trainer Ray Zahab (Engle's Running the Sahara cohort), says the stress of the court case became too much. "I am a single parent and do events to raise awareness to find a cure for blindness, since I have a son who is losing his sight," says Bastidas. "I have my two kids full time and a responsibility to the charities I represent, so I had to unfortunately choose between my sons and seeing Charlie. He understands that I am first a mother and that my son deserves a cure.
"Charlie is the most unselfish person I have ever met. He is a world-class athlete but in less that five minutes you forget that and he makes you feel like you are talking to an old friend. He takes the time to listen to everyone's problems, whether it is about divorce, addiction, death, anything. He leads by example, and gives people hope that anything can be done."
Another "ex" (Engle jokes that he may not be the best husband or boyfriend, "but I make a great ex!") attending the Saturday evening event was Lisa Trexler, 39, of Greensboro, who dated Engle for about five years, including during the Sahara adventure.
"I've seen firsthand how much he has inspired others, whether it be his sons, his mother, his friends or a stranger in the airport. People seem to feel an immediate connection with him and a comfort that can't be explained," says Trexler. "What I learned most from Charlie was how to be forgiving, compassionate and non-judgmental."
Chris Roman, 41, a radiologist and ultrarunner from Jacksonville, Florida, had traveled to Greensboro for the event as well. In September 2010, in just over six days, Roman had run the 363-mile length of the Erie Canal to raise money for Lance Armstrong's LIVESTRONG organization and, in January 2011, would run Brazil's 530-kilometer Caminho da Fe (Path of Faith) to benefit the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF).