Dynamic duo made sports history

Sports icons Tom Masich and Dick Voneugen collaborated to make things happen in Prince George that changed Canadian history.

They've known each other for more than 40 years. Together and apart, they have played key parts in growing the sports culture of Prince George.

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Masich started the Prince George Track and Field Club in 1973 after the last one closed in 1967.

The first event where Masich and Voneugen met was the Corporate Cup Track and Field event that took place in 1979 that saw big business bring their finest athletes to test their mettle.

"At one time we had 52 corporations that brought teams to the event," Masich said.

There were 250 competitors in its first year.

Masich was an organizer and Voneugen, a long-distance runner, was on a team called The Strays because his place of work was too small to put a team together so he gathered an assortment of athletes to create a team.

"Dick and I were involved with the Corporate Cup for several years and then aligned ourselves again for Rick Hansen's Man in Motion tour around the world," Masich, a sprinter and long-jumper, said of the event that began in 1985.

Voneugen explained they coordinated a busload of local volunteers who followed Hansen from Prince George to Crescent Spur, near McBride.

"Every kilometre another person would come out of the bus to run with Rick," Voneugen said.

Hansen knew Masich and Voneugen previously when he participated in the 1979 Prince George to Boston Marathon, which was also the run Terry Fox did as he considered the possibility of running his Marathon of Hope, which took him across the country to raise funds and awareness for cancer research. After the Prince George test run, Fox called his mother to tell her he was going to do the massive run across the country.

During the original Prince George to Boston marathon, runners were transported to the Salmon River bridge and they would run into town but it wasn't especially safe so organizers Masich and Voneugen decided to make it a loop around town instead.

"That's where the distance came from - 17 miles from the bridge to Spruceland," Voneugen said. "Then we developed a circuit in town - eight and a half miles and then if you wanted to do the 17 miles you'd do it twice."

There was a very special reason the race was called Prince George to Boston Marathon.

"I wanted to give the overall winner a free trip to the Boston Marathon the following spring," Masich said. Trans-Canada Air Lines sponsored the flights and the track club raised funds to cover the hotel stay and meals, Masich added.

When the Prince George Road Runners took over the race they switched the name to the Labour Day Classic and kept the race intact at two loops of eight and a half miles.

The chair that Terry Fox sat in while visiting with Tom and wife Anne has been kept in the Masich family as a precious keepsake.

Those who visit the downtown statue of Terry Fox can take note that on Terry's singlet is the number 192 that he wore during the 1979 Prince George to Boston Marathon. The singlet on the statue marks the significance of the impact Prince George had on the Marathon of Hope.

As Masich and Voneugen took a moment to reflect on those events, Voneugen got a little sentimental.

"And in all these years, I don't think we ever had a cross word, did we, Tom?" Dick asked.

"No, I don't do those kinds of puzzles, Dick," Tom deadpanned.

Then it was back to business.

"For a number of years Dick and I went to the elementary schools on their Terry Fox Run day and we spoke of Terry being here - and we called it the Tom, Dick and Terry get together," Masich smiled.

"We spoke to the kids to inspire them to do a good run at their schools."

Voneugen talked about his infamous horn that started many races throughout the community and still does to this day.

Making noise to encourage athletes is a custom well known throughout the world and when Voneugen took it up it started with his brother using a piece of conduit, then Voneugen found a broken off logging truck's airhorn.

"Then I believe it was someone at the Citizen who wrote 'we now have a permanent starter for racing road running events with a horn'," Voneugen laughed.

One year a young lady from UNBC gifted him with a vuvuzela from South Africa after watching Voneugen blowing his horn in disrepair to start one of the many road races held in Prince George.

"And I always keep it with me, in fact I have my horn in the car," Voneugen said.

Masich talked about how he and Voneugen helped organize parts of the B.C. Senior Games when Prince George hosted in 2002 and 2008.

"We worked together in putting together the track portion of the games," Masich said.

Reminiscing about the good old days, Voneugen couldn't help talk about his appreciation.

"It's been a marvelous time," he said. "From Corporate Cup, P.G. to Boston Marathon - Labour Day Classic, Terry Fox Run, Rick Hansen, Senior Games (55+ B.C. Games), and now we're here."

Masich and Voneugen still volunteer throughout the community. Right now they are guiding the North Central Zone 9 athletes who will participate in Track and Field at the 55+ B.C. Games in Kelowna from Sept. 10 to 14.

"I think Dick and I were cut from the same cloth," Masich said. "We get an idea, we see a purpose of the idea and we carry the idea through and we get along without an argument. It really makes a big difference when you're organizing something."

Masich makes those he coaches comfortable and confident, while he is able to dissect an athlete's technique down to the little details that make all the difference. Throughout his lifetime, Masich coached thousands of children in Prince George. Dozens of those athletes have grown up to excel in their sport and then pursued coaching as their chosen career.

"Tom is not only a super organizer, but he also has all the skills to be the perfect coach," Voneugen said. "We always found a way to work together and we're still doing that for the 55+ Games."

(Editor's Note: Christine Hinzmann is being coached by Tom Masich as she prepares for the upcoming 55+ B.C. Games next month in Kelowna. In her age category, she is the defending provincial champion in discus and shot put. She's also looking to improve upon her 2018 silver medals in javelin and hammer throw.

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