Bob Forrest Guest Sports Writer
The Ada News
Ada firefighter Danny Manuel has always loved to run. Recently, he’s discovered it’s more fun to run as part of a team.
Manuel, a 1992 graduate of Byng High School, ran his first competitive race 17 years ago, but it wasn’t until last year that he and three other local firemen — Lance Haines, Drew Dibler and Billy Claxton — decided to team up to compete as a relay in the emergency services division of the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon.
“A little over a year ago, some of the guys at the station said we should have a team,” Manuel recalled. “To keep anybody from backing out, I got online right then and signed us up as a team. We did it last year, and we’re going to go back this year.
“I know we didn’t finish in the top three last year, but compared to other departments we did pretty well,” he said. “Most of the teams are from Oklahoma, but you don’t have to be from Oklahoma to run in it.”
While most teams who will compete in this year’s marathon (on Sunday, April 29) have five members, Manuel and his fellow firefighters — who have christened themselves “The Knights of Malta” — will again try it as a quartet instead of a quintet.
“It’s a five-person relay, but we’re going to do it with only four,” Manuel explained. “I’m going to run a 12K and a 5K leg, which is a little over 10 miles. There are four of us who are interested in it, and three of us are on the same shift.”
Manuel said he and his teammates expect to improve on last year’s finish.
“I think we’re going to do pretty good,” he predicted. “All of us have had life circumstances that maybe prevented us from reaching the level we wanted to reach.
“Claxton (the oldest member of the team) is in kind of maintenance mode; I’m 38 and I’m still trying to get faster. I think my best days are ahead of me.
“In our category, there will probably be more than 100 teams,” Manuel said. “I’m just glad we have a team and some guys who want to go out and run.”
Although Byng didn’t have a track team until Manuel’s senior year and he didn’t compete until three years after graduation, he said he was always interested in the sport.
“I came from a family where sports had no value, it was all about work, but even as a kid I didn’t mind running,” he said. “For several years before I actually competed, I found a reason not to run, and in 1995 I decided to do it. That was 20 days before July 4, and I was 21 years old.
“I ran my first 5K in the Fireball Classic, and I actually ran decent — I won my age group and finished in the top 10 or 15,” Manuel said. “I ran my first marathon in Oklahoma City in 2004. Most of the time when I’m competing as an individual I end up in the top 10 percent.”
Manuel said he and Haines (a 2001 graduate of Latta High School), Dibler (who graduated from Ada High in “2004 or 2005”) and Claxton decided on a new team name this year to emphasize the importance, of their day jobs.
“The historical significance is that the Knights of Malta were on the First Crusade and they were first responders who helped some of their fellow knights who were hurt in battle,” he explained. “The Maltest Cross is associated with the fire service. That’s kind of generic.”
Most of the hard work in preparation for the OKC race is done, Manuel said.
“At this stage, for me, it’s just to try not to get injured and not go backward.”
More information about the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon can be found online at okcmarathon.com.