By Sierra Ryanisrael
March 25 is race day for Run Seal Beach, so you will start seeing race shirts with “Thanks Bill” on the back in memory of race founder Bill Ayres.
Ayres was a longtime resident of Seal Beach and possessed a passion for running, which led him to create an annual race for the city. His vision was to create a race that would bring people together to connect with one another and give back to the community. From there, Run Seal Beach was created to bring together the community for a day of fun exercise.
Before the days of the internet, people would gather together and send mailers spreading the news of the race to the community. For his dedication to his community, he was awarded the Citizen of the Year Award in 2010.
He was a beloved neighbor, always there to talk or give advice to anyone. “I think if I had anything to add about Bill it would just be the countless time he spent year round. I think everyone saw race day but nobody realized he worked year round meeting with sponsors, ordering supplies and planning the race course. Also he was the one to establish the non-profit to guarantee that race would always by giving back to the community,” said Tim Kelsey, recreation manager for the city of Seal Beach.
People could see Ayres picking his lemons in front his house or doing lawn work. He loved to pull pranks and was very excited when a fellow alumni from Texas A & M became his neighbor. Even in his late 70s and early 80s he would go for his daily runs around the community. He loved traveling to different countries around the world with his wife Gail and going on his yearly fishing trips with his friends to Alaska in the summer. After his trips, he would bring back items to share with his neighbors. He would have a block party to share his Alaskan fishing catch with his neighbors and share his stories.
Bill Ayres passed away on Aug. 4, 2022 at the age of 87. Bill’s legacy lives on through his wife, Gail, his brother Jim, his children Mark and Michelle. Along with his six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Through the years, the number of runners in the race he created has steadily increased. In the spirit of inclusion, Ayres later added the Kid’s 1k Fun Run to increase the kid’s participation and to give parents no stress as they completed their run. In 1999, Run Seal Beach became a non-profit, and to this day has remained one of the largest local non-profit organizations, contributing more than $1,900,00 back to the community.
Run Seal Beach is 100% volunteer-directed and planned, which saves money, and allows the Board of Directors to distribute a maximum number of grants into the community each year.
After the race, local organizations submit their grant requests, which are vetted and approved by the Board, and grants are distributed at Seal Beach City Hall in the June/July time frame. Some of the organizations that received grant awards last year were Casa Youth Shelter, Seal Beach Junior Lifeguards, Oak Middle School and Southeast County Young Marines to name a few.
In 2022, more than $80,000 grants were awarded to the Seal Beach community. The list of 2020 grant recipients is available at the Run Seal Beach website: runsealbeach.com
Run Seal Beach has helped schools in the community such as Oak Middle School, McGaugh, McAuliffe, Los Alamitos High School and St Hedwigs. Grants awarded to schools help with musical equipment for Choir programs, track and field timing, and recreational equipment. At Oak Middle School, students participate in part of a team building experience while encouraging one another to cross the finish line and their participants consist of teachers, parents, faculty, and students every year.
Oak Middle School participates as a team in all of the races being the 5k, 10k and kid’s 1 k Fun Run. Teachers are a big part of the registration process, placing posters on their classroom doors that visually demonstrate each class makes towards sign ups. The coordinator of the Oak Middle School team has participated in Spartan races, which are an obstacle course in racing that challenges the human limits. Her determination of always moving forward encourages the students to push past their comfort zones to complete new challenges in running and in life. Emails are also sent to staff to encourage participating in the race.
In 2022, more than 100 Oak students participated in one of the Run Seal Beach events and teachers commented on the saw an increase in positive feelings, excitement and teamwork leading up to, during, and after the race. It is in this spirit of volunteerism, community, participation and health, that Run Seal Beach organizers want to remember founder Bill Ayers.