Occasional runners and a bicyclist or two passed the wooden park bench facing Lake Hefner as the wind curled tiny waves into white caps.
The cool air, the easy pace of the morning and birds singing a soft blend of songs made for a calm atmosphere. Dr. Don Smith of the Oklahoma City Running Club was sitting on that park bench as I pulled just beyond a stretch of track on the lake's west side and parked.
The bench was the reason we were meeting. Actually the name on the gold plaque mounted to the bench was the reason I wanted to visit with him.
In July 1984, Judy Weichert, a member of the OKC Running Club, was training for a marathon. According to information from the organization, she usually ran with her husband, Steve, but on July 28, 1984, the 33-year-old woke early and went out for her 16-mile run in far northwest Oklahoma City.
On that Saturday morning, a passerby discovered Weichert on the side of the road, according to Oklahoma City police. She had been attacked and stabbed repeatedly in the chest and neck. Weichert died hours later at an Oklahoma City hospital, according to the running club.
Steve Weichert has been quoted by the organization as saying, "Next to me and our home, I think running was the most important thing in her life. It gave her confidence in herself. Running made her a stronger, more positive person.
Members of the running club participated in compiling about $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of her killer. A story in The Oklahoman in September 1984 said the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation announced that $5,000 from the state Reward System would be added to the $10,000 offered by the running club. The case remains unsolved.
The $10,000 was handled through Crime Stoppers and was held in trust until its eventual return when the case went unsolved, according to Oklahoma City police.
There have been various tributes to Weichert's memory through the years, but in November 2003, the running club's "Committee to Suggest Use of the Judy Weichert Fund submitted recommendations to its board of directors.
Out of those is a 5K run and 1-mile fun run held since 2004 during Oklahoma City's Downtown in December, benefiting the Judy Weichert Scholarship Fund presented to children of police department employees. They didn't stop with the run and the scholarship.
This month, the club held a dedication at Lake Overholser to recognize the three park benches they bought and installed last fall. Along with the bench at Lake Overholser and Lake Hefner, one also has been placed along the Oklahoma River.
"Those are very popular outdoor recreation locations for walking, running and bicycling, Smith said of the sites of the benches. "We wanted to utilize the money from the fund to memorialize her and partly we wanted to remind runners that there are some hazards out there when you're running alone.
Smith said the club has about 400 members and he obviously doesn't know each, just as he didn't personally know Weichert. But he said there are some common safety tips runners can adhere to, such as running with someone, having an awareness of the surroundings and observing safety measures such as running on the left side of the road against the flow of traffic.
This is not to say Weichert was not careful. It's just an opportunity to use a tragedy to re-emphasize how to take steps toward being safe while participating in an activity many enjoy, including Weichert.
Supportive of others
Weichert started running in 1979 and won a 10K race in Edmond while she and her husband were members of the Oklahoma City Running Club. Both also had run the Dallas White Rock Marathon.
In September 1984, a club member who knew Weichert, noted only as "The Other Judy, wrote a piece for the club's newsletter. She described a person who was not only a dedicated trainer, but an intense supporter of others.
She gave as an example the marathon at White Rock.
"For hours after the race, you could find her listening intently to everyone's personal story of their run, the writer said. "She was always there congratulating, listening, supporting, doing whatever she could to make the rest of us feel great. Just being in her presence made us happy.
Smith didn't know Weichert, but he knows marathons. He's run 13, including the Boston Marathon twice and the New York City Marathon once. So the fact that she was a marathoner tells Smith a lot about Weichert's love for running. "Having the designation of a marathoner is a badge of distinction for a runner, Smith said. "It takes a great deal of dedication and training to run a marathon.
Maybe through the run, the scholarship and the benches, Weichert's memory will continue to do what the runner herself did for so many offer positive support.
As the writer in the club newsletter stated, "We are all so fortunate to have had our lives touched by such a beautiful person.
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