Randy Angel

GI Joe Charles inspires runners at Pier-to-Pier Run/Walk

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Stroke victim Joe Charles reaches the finish line at his annual Spring Pier-to-Pier Run/Walk. Photo by Randy Angel

Stroke victim Joe Charles reaches the finish line at his annual Spring Pier-to-Pier Run/Walk. Photo by Randy Angel

By Randy Angel

Standing at the entrance to the Hermosa Beach Pier a few feet from the statue depicting legendary surfer and lifeguard Tim Kelly, Joe Charles’ status as a local icon was also made apparent.

For more than one hour Saturday morning, Charles accepted hugs and posed for photos from well wishers who spoke words of encouragement to the 57-year-old who suffered a near-fatal stroke in January 2015.

Charles’ recovery has astonished a multitude of people who have been trained by “GI Joe” at his Manhattan Beach Bootcamp, participated in his Spring and Fall Pier-to-Pier Runs or physically tested during his One Push-Up Challenges.

While Charles recovers and rehabilitates, Village Runner owner Mike Ward stepped up to help promote the event.

In less than nine months, Charles has gone from a wheelchair to using a walker to a cane, which he currently uses. The biggest surprise, however, came when Charles handed off his cane and made his way to the front of the pack of runners at the starting line for this year’s Spring Pier-to-Pier Run.

As the participants ran past Charles on their way to the Manhattan Beach Pier and back, Charles began his own quest. Walking in the deep, soft sand, he headed toward the water before turning north. With a couple of aides by his side, Charles trekked to a second lifeguard tower before turning around.

Sweating and breathing hard, Charles was obviously struggling as he focused on one step at a time. He soon looked to find a dozen people had formed an entourage that joined Charles for moral support as he made his way to the finish line.

“The man is an inspiration,” said winner Darren Bui of Alhambra. “He served our country and I have so much respect for him. I’m so honored to have met such a great guy.”

Joe Charles congratulates winner Darren Bui, of Alhambra. Photo by Randy Angel

Joe Charles congratulates winner Darren Bui, of Alhambra. Photo by Randy Angel

Bui posted a time of 24 minutes, 39.65 seconds beating Miguel Colon (25:08.18) and Con Mallon (25:15.79). .

“This was my first time running in the event,” Bui said. “My wife told me what a fun race it is and that I should come run it. I’m glad I did.”

Annie Seawright-Newton, of Hermosa Beach, is a local running icon in her own right. She was the first female to cross the finish line after competing in her fourth Pier-to-Pier Run.

“I’m usually watching my daughters at volleyball matches,” Seawright-Newton said. “But nothing would make me miss this today. I’m so proud of Joe.”

Seawright-Newton finished fourth overall with a time of 26:25.80 defeating Cynthia Ho (28:34.61) and Tina Carranza (30:37.40) for the women’s title.

While participants and onlookers were inspired by Charles’ personal feat Saturday morning, Seawright-Newton gained motivation from Charles’ story earlier in the week.

“I had a strange week having to spend a night in the hospital with chest pains,” Seawright-Newton said. “I’ve dealt with heart pains in the past that were strictly muscular but the doctors wanted to run tests. I was 90 percent sure that I was fine but there was a part of me that was a little scared wondering ‘What if I can’t run again?’ I was thinking about Joe and what he went through so it makes me very grateful to be here.”

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