Juneau to honor Coyner, fallen duathlon champ

Posted: Thursday, July 18, 2002

Three memorial events will take place next week to honor the life of three-time age group national duathlon champion Wes Coyner, who collapsed and died Sunday just short of the finish line at the 2002 Duathlon National Championship meet in Carlsbad, Calif.

Coyner, 74, was a 32-year resident of Juneau who worked as a political lobbyist and served as the chief of staff for Gov. Bill Egan in the 1970s. He was a racquetball club professional for nearly 20 years, and over the past four years he competed in the run-bike-run duathlon events which became Coyner's passion.

After the Governor's Cup Fun Run on July 6, Wes and Dolores Coyner said the trip to California would serve as a family reunion as well as a chance for Wes to defend his age 70-74 age group national title. Their son, Kevin Coyner, who lives in Greenwich, Conn., planned to meet the family in California after a business trip in Japan. The family members stayed at the home of Claudia Metcalfe, Wes and Dolores Coyner's daughter, who lives in nearby La Jolla, Calif.

"If you have to go, and we believe this was premature, the timing couldn't have been better," Kevin Coyner said of his father's death. "He loved training and competing, and we were able, all of the immediate family including the four grandkids, to be there with him."

Coyner was the three-time defending champion in his age group when he started Sunday's race, which featured a 10-kilometer run, a 40K bike and a 5K second run leg. He started to struggle on the first run, when he was briefly tended to by paramedics, but decided to continue the race despite feeling lightheaded. Coyner's family members took turns accompanying him through the course.

Stephen Metcalfe, Coyner's son-in-law, told the San Diego Union Tribune that Coyner staggered and collected himself several times during the second run before he collapsed several yards from the finish line. Paramedics immediately tended to Coyner, but he could not be revived. Charlotte Cunningham of the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office said Coyner died of congestive heart failure.

At the request of Coyner's family, the ambulance carrying Coyner's body was driven across the finish line en route to the Tri-City Medical Center so he could symbolically finish the race. Bill Burke of Premier Event Management, which runs the Dannon Duathlon Series, said the finish tape was given to Coyner's wife, Dolores.

"This was pretty devastating to all of us," said Burke, who added that several competitors, including both the men's and women's champions, broke down in tears when Coyner's death was announced. "What makes it harder is I know these folks. Wes ran in a couple of our races every year, and so had his family members (Kevin Coyner has competed in Ironman triathlons and Claudia Metcalfe competed in last year's national championship meet)."

Burke said Coyner's bib number, 239, will be retired from the Dannon Duathlon Series, never to be used again. He said the series will donate $1,000 to a charity of the Coyner family's choice, and there will be a $1,000 scholarship/sponsorship in Coyner's name given to the top junior male duathlete at the 2003 and 2004 national championships. A moment of silence will be held for Coyner before his 70-74 age group takes the course during the Duathlon World Championships on Oct. 19 in Alpharetta, Ga. Coyner had already qualified to represent Team USA at that meet, which would have been his fifth world championship event.

Juneau Racquet Club-The Alaska Club co-owner John McConnochie, who has been working with the Coyner family, said there will be a wake, a memory run/bike/walk and a hike to spread Coyner's ashes next week. All three events are open to the public.

Kevin Coyner, who is still in California with the rest of the family members, said there will not be a traditional funeral service at a church or funeral home.

The local memorial events will start on Tuesday with an informal wake/reception from 5-8 p.m. at the Juneau Yacht Club.

On Wednesday, there will be a five-kilometer memory run/bike/walk along one of Coyner's favorite training areas. The event will start at 5:15 p.m. at the False Outer Point parking lot and participants will go to a spot just above the North Douglas Boat Launch and back to False Outer Point along the North Douglas Highway. This is an untimed event, and McConnochie said people who don't want to run or bike the course are welcome to hang around at the start-finish line.

The family will hike out to Granite Creek Basin, off the Perseverance Trail, on Thursday to spread Coyner's ashes. This was one of Coyner's favorite places to hike, and the family will meet about 3 p.m. for a brief ceremony at Granite Creek Basin. This is a hike of about four miles each way, which Coyner's daughter, Claudia Metcalfe, said takes her about 1 1/2 hours hiking at a normal place. The Coyner family will have young children with it, so the family will start hiking to Granite Creek Basin about two hours before the 3 p.m. ceremony.

The Southeast Road Runners Club and Juneau Freewheelers Bicycle Club plan to cosponsor the inaugural Wes Coyner Memorial Duathlon on the first Saturday in June 2003, SERR president Ken Maas said. This event will use the same course as the two clubs' current False Outer Point Duathlon events.

"We'll definitely jump on that," Maas said of the memorial duathlon. "Wes was our hero."

Former Juneau mayor and current Juneau Chamber of Commerce director Jamie Parsons said Coyner played a big role in getting the first Juneau Racquet Club started nearly 25 years ago. Parsons said Phil Godfrey, who owned Red Samm Construction, wanted to build an athletic club and Coyner was one of four men who helped raise the seed money to get the Valley club built.

"Wes got people to put $100 each together so it could be put in escrow as good-faith money to get the club started," said Parsons, who later bought the club from Godfrey. "He, Dean Williams, Henry Tiffany and I knocked on doors trying to get the 300 memberships Godfrey said we needed to get the club built. We only got 200 of them, but Godfrey got the club built anyway. That was back in the summer of 1977, and the club opened on Sept. 29, 1978."

Parsons said the Valley club has had a racquetball court named for Coyner for several years, and general manager Gail O'Dell said the downtown club has had a candle burning for Coyner since his death.

While most people in recent years knew Coyner for his athletic pursuits, several people said Coyner was well-respected in the state Capitol for his lobbying efforts.

"It was kind of another dimension of Wes that a lot of people now might not be aware of," said Lisa Bell, the chief operating officer for Alaska Pacific Bank and president of the Alaska Bankers Association, one of Coyner's lobbying clients. "He was well-respected as a lobbyist, and I'm sure some of his other clients would agree. He spent over 20 years lobbying for the Alaska Bankers Association, and he really understood banking issues and assisted bankers through a 20-year span of massive changes. He was very intelligent, highly ethical and well-respected on the Hill."

"I think every legislator who worked with him would say he was a class act," Parsons said. "He was a classy guy all around."

Charles Bingham can be reached at cbingham@juneauempire.com.

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