Runners from Williamsburg, Toano and Yorktown were the three additional inductees into the 2016 class for the Virginia Peninsula Road Racing Hall of Fame.
The class was announced the last two Saturdays of January, first at the Peninsula Track Club awards banquet at the Edgehill Association Clubhouse in Yorktown on Jan. 21, then at the Colonial Road Runners awards banquet on Saturday at the Windsor Forest Clubhouse in Williamsburg. This is the 11th inductee class into the Hall of Fame, coordinated jointly by the Peninsula Track Club and the Colonial Road Runners.
The previous 10 Hall of Fame classes were Joan Coven, the late Michael Mann, and John Piggott in 2006; Rick Platt, Valerie Plyler and the late Tom Ray in 2007; Lew Faxon, Rob Hinkle and Andrew Polansky in 2008; Barbara Biasi, Ed Richards and Robert S. White in 2009; Stephen Chantry, Jim Goggin and John Hort in 2010; Joe Harney, Larry Turner and Lori Eady Melle in 2011; Bruce Davis, Rhonda Venable and Jennifer Quarles in 2012; Mercedes Castillo-D'Amico, Ed Moran and Dick Pierce in 2013; George Fenigsohn, Chris Papile and Langston Shelton in 2014; and Randy Hawthorne and Mark Tompkins in 2015.
This year's inductees, Dale Abrahamson of Yorktown, Ben Dyer of Toano, and Rick Samaha of Williamsburg, all have been running at the highest levels for over 35 years.
Abrahamson played baseball (third base), football (wide receiver and free safety) and basketball (forward) in high school, but did not compete in college. He did not pick up running until his 30s, while working at Fort Lee. He had quick success, finishing the 1981 Shamrock Marathon in a Boston Marathon-qualifying time of 2:47:45, but the qualifying window had closed for that year, and his request to run the 1982 Boston was rejected.
Four more marathon attempts to make Boston in the next two years were not successful. Finally in 2014, he realized he was capable of qualifying in the men's 65-69 age group, and ran the Richmond Marathon that November, finally making the Boston qualifying mark 33 years later with a time of 3:46:50, well under the 4:10 standard. "Finishing the (2015) Boston Marathon on a warm 70-plus degree day in 3:56 while passing 6,000-pus runners including Amby Burfoot (a past Boston winner) was one of the highlights of my 37-year running career," Abrahamson said.
Abrahamson has had many more highlights in the interim. His lifetime personal records (PRs) were all set between 1981 and 1986, including 16:52 for 5K, 27:52 for the Shamrock 8K, 35:03 for 10K, 56:42 for the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, and 1:17:58 at the Colonial Half Marathon. However, it wasn't until he reached his 60s that he ran the best age-graded times of his life, reaching the national-class 80-percent level in the 5K, 8K (33:12), 10K (41:19) and 10 mile.
Besides running, Abrahamson is active outdoors. Through the years he has hiked 35 of the 54 Colorado peaks over 14,000 feet, and several years ago he also hiked to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak at 19,341 feet.
He has also given back to the sport of running through the years, starting with the Fort Lee Track Club, where he was president in 1985 and '87, vice president in 1982 and '86, a race course developer, and many times a race director. Later at Fort Monroe, he was the coach and team captain for the Army team, as well as writing running articles for the base newspaper.
For the Peninsula Track Club, he has spoken often at the club meetings, written for the club newsletter, and volunteered at numerous races, while winning numerous PTC Grand Prix awards. And for the Colonial Road Runners, he has also volunteered at races, won a half dozen CRR Grand Prix awards, and competed on the CRR teams at regional and national championships.
Dyer played football and basketball, and ran track (hurdles, sprint relays, high jump) in high school, but didn't take up running and racing until 1980, while in his upper 30s. On an age-graded basis, his most impressive times and lifetime bests all came from age 42 to 46, where he age-graded as high as a national-class 86 percent.
Those lifetime PRs include a 16:35 at age 45 in the 5K, a 33:38 at the Elizabeth River Run 10K at age 45, a 1:15:35 at the Colonial Half Marathon at age 46, a 55:36 at the Virginia Ten Miler at age 41, and a 2:38:13 at the Marine Corps Marathon at age 42. He has run 33 marathons, including 15 Richmonds, eight Shamrocks, four Bostons, two New Yorks and two Marine Corps. In 1983, he ran 20 miles per day for 10 straight days from July 25 to Aug. 3, ran a 10K race in Tappahannock, then resumed his training with 20 miles a day for 15 more days, from Aug. 8-22, a remarkable total of 521 miles in 29 days.
Giving back to the sport, he coached cross country or track at Petersburg High (1996-2006), James River High (2007-2010) and Gloucester High (2011-12), and twice was a girls basketball Coach-of-the-Year. He was a race director for the Petersburg running club (the Tri-Cities Road Runners), as well as a frequent volunteer at both TCRR and CRR races. For the CRR, he has won the 70-and-over Grand Prix title from 2014-16, and has never been beaten in 36 straight races for men 70-and-over during that three-year period. He currently holds the vast majority of the men's 70-74 age group records in CRR races.
Unlike Abrahamson and Dyer, Samaha had immediate success in high school at Phillips Exeter Academy, where he was cross country MVP on a team that was the New England Prep School champion, he held the cross country school record (by 14 seconds), he ran a school record 9:27.4 for two miles on a cinder track, and he placed sixth in the 1976 national Junior Olympics at two miles, timed in 9:18.3. Samaha only competed for one year at the University of Virginia, due to shin splints.
On the roads, his best times came in the 35-39 age group, where he ran 15:49 at the Anheuser-Busch Colonial 5K in 1994, 15:54 at the Oyster Point 5K in 1993, 33:26 at the Bay Days 10K in 1993, and 53:38 at the Watermen's Museum 10 Miler in 1993, age-grading as high as 84 percent. At age 52 he had a 30:11 at the Run for the Dream 8K. He won the 1993 Carter's Grove 8 Miler in 44:06, at age 35. On the track, in that 35-39 age group, he ran 2:03.7 for 800 meters, 4:13.34 for 1,500 meters, 9:08.26 for 3,000 meters, and a 15:41.95 at the 1994 Colonial Relays 5,000 meters, competing against college and open runners.
His highlight for the Colonial Road Runners was being part of the 2008 USATF national champion 4x800-meter relay team (including hall of famers Steve Chantry and Jim Goggin) that ran a 9:06.90 to break the American club record for men 50-59, then defended their team title a year later. He was the CRR Masters Grand Prix champion in 2000.
Contributions to the sport included coaching youth track in Langley in 1977, middle school cross country at Williamsburg Christian Academy in 2007-08, and sports injury care to various athletes during his medical career in urgent care in Williamsburg (1987-2005) and at Fort Eustis (2006-17). In March 2018, Samaha will move into the 60-and-over age group, and with a reduced workload he has a goal to rank in the top 10 nationally at distances from 800 meters to the half marathon.