Ramona Villarreal considers herself an athlete and an honest person. The 56-year-old Madison resident has competed in Ironman competitions and run at least 15 marathons - including, she reckons, 10 Madison Marathons.
But no more. Villarreal has been "permanently banned" from future Madison Marathons. If she tries to register, she will be denied. If she shows up anyway, she's been warned, "We will have the right to remove you...and won't hesitate to do so."
Villarreal's transgression? She ran in the last Madison Marathon, on May 30, without registering and paying a fee. She was, in the parlance of the sport, a "bandit."
In fact, Villarreal tried to register but was a bit late. The 5,100 slots for the half-marathon, a mere 13.1-mile jaunt, filled up earlier that day. Villarreal says she offered to register for the full 26.2-mile event and only run half (the fee at that time was $105 for the full race and $85 for the half), but this was not allowed.
Villarreal asked Rita Kelliher, the president of Madison Festivals Inc., which sponsors the event, if she could run the route anyway. Kelliher, who knows Villarreal from when they both worked for Madison School & Community Recreation, says she discouraged this, while conceding she had no control over who runs on a public sidewalk.
On race day, Villarreal did the half-marathon. And while there were stretches where she ran in the road with other runners, she says she didn't interfere with anyone or drink any of the water or refreshments provided for paid participants. "I had my family give me water," she says.
Villarreal feels unfairly singled out. She saw several other runners that day without numbered bibs and assumed they also didn't register. Kelliher says some registered runners lacked bibs but admits Villarreal was nabbed only because Kelliher recognized her two months later, while looking at photos from the event. This is the first time she knows of that anyone has been banned.
Kelliher defends the decision, saying the marathon must stay within its parade-permit limit - this year 8,500. And unauthorized runners pose safety and liability concerns. For instance, Villarreal "could have keeled over and we wouldn't have any identifying information."
Villarreal says that if the marathon is going to ban non-payers from future events, it ought to say so in its rules, which it does not. Kelliher thinks it's obvious that people should not be doing this: "It's like stealing."
In fact, Kelliher says the marathon intends to take a tougher stance toward bandits in the future, using volunteers to identify unregistered runners so they can be ejected. "We have to keep this race safe and secure for registered participants."
La Follette's legacy
Doug La Follette, Wisconsin's secretary of state, has been thinking lately about his life and legacy. The 70-year-old Madison resident doesn't have children or some other "obvious choice" to bequeath money to. But he does have a child, of sorts, in the group he helped found 40 years ago: Wisconsin's Environmental Decade, now Clean Wisconsin.
"It's an emotional thing for me," says La Follette, who recalls using a mimeograph machine to produce the Decade's first newsletter; now it's the state's preeminent environmental group. "This is something I'm very proud of."
La Follette, who has logged 32 years as secretary of state (he's seeking reelection this fall against GOP hopeful David King), came up with an idea to keep folks educated on environmental topics. And then he got to thinking: "Why should I wait until I die?"
And so he's made plans to donate $100,000 to create an endowment fund with the Madison Community Foundation for use by Clean Wisconsin to bring in environmental speakers.
Ann Casey, the foundation's vice president of finance and planned giving, says the fund, a componentof the larger foundation, would currently generate an annual distribution equal to 4.75% of its value. And over time, the seed amount could grow substantially with reinvested earnings and contributions from other donors.
"The goal," says Casey, "is that all of our funds growto keep up with inflation so the amount of the distribution has the same buying power in future years."
The Doug La Follette Environmental Speakers Program aims to fund two speakers a year, at locations around the state. The first such event - set for Thursday, Sept. 30, at the UW-Madison Pyle Center, 7 p.m. - will present Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute and senior counsel for the Center of Biological Diversity.
Siegel won a landmark case before the U.S. Supreme Court to extend Endangered Species Act protections to the polar bear due to the harm caused by climate change. She's drafting similar petitions for other species.
The event, stresses La Follette, is "free and open to the public," as they will all be.
Making this garden grow
State Sen. Fred Risser, the nation's longest-tenured lawmaker, has found something new to be excited about: the vegetable garden on the Capitol Square's southwest corner, by Inn on the Park. Proposed by Madison FarmWorks and approved by the Executive Residence Board that Risser heads, the small plot, formerly used for flowers, boasts an abundance of tomatoes, cabbage, beets and other veggies. He considers it a smashing success.
"The Capitol Vegetable Garden is a public laboratory to highlight the work of Dane County's many small farms and inspire people interested in planting vegetable gardens," says Risser. "The response has been outstanding, and during major events like the Farmers' Market it's not unusual to find a crowd of people looking at the garden's progress."
Move over, Stalin (but hand-signal first)
An actual letter received by Isthmus, in response to Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's Aug. 13 cover story, "In Defense of Madison":
"Your overly glorious portrayal of Madison, together with your arrogant stance in front of your bike, leve [sic] no doubt as to what type of mayor you are and why you should be defeated next election.You omit altogether dicussing [sic] the social engineering you would like to do of Madison's population in general into an almost Stalinist like world where apartments or condos, mass transit and bicycles are the norm and autos are virtually phased out as a means of transport under the guise of 'coexistence.'"
Because these insights were anonymous, they did not make it into our letters page. But we did pass them on to Mayor Dave, who responded incredulously: "Stalin rode a bicycle?"