SELMA – When Linda Melo started training for races in 1980, she didn’t realize she’d rekindle a love of running that would inspire her own father, John Paredes, to take up the healthy habit until he died at 94. It was a habit that almost 40 years later is still inspiring young runners in Selma.
After taking up running, Paredes participated in virtually every Selma Raisin Festival Fun Run since its inception. Since he passed away recently, organizers decided to rename the event in his honor.
The Kiwanis-sponsored race has now been dubbed the John Paredes Memorial and took place May 4 during the Selma Raisin Festival. In the cool morning air as racers gathered at the northeast corner of Lincoln Park, the family recalled how Paredes started running in the first place and what it meant to him over the years.
Paredes was married to Carmen Paredes and they raised two daughters, Gloria and Linda, at their Selma home on B Street. He was born in Texas and raised in Wyoming but traveled to California by train. He came to Selma when he was still 19 and lived the rest of his life here.
“We grew up here,” Gloria Grijalva said. “My sister and I went to all the Selma schools and we were raised here.”
She doesn’t recall her father running until he was in his mid-fifties.
“He ran because my sister talked him to running in a race they had at the Pioneer Village.”
Linda Melo said she started training for races after taking part in one in Fresno. She found out the Kiwanis sponsored one in Selma for the Fourth of July that started out at Pioneer Village. The route went to Manning Avenue and back on the highway.
“My dad said he’d run with me, but he ran in his 501 jeans and his tennis shoes. We’d run on Floral Avenue all the way to Bethel and back. That was our training. He told me that he’d loved to run when he was a kid.”
Melo signed them up for the race and she surprised him with running attire for Father’s Day.
“I got him tennis shoes, shorts, a singlet, socks and the works. I wasn’t sure if he was going to wear them, but he went into the bathroom and came out and he had his shorts on. In 25 years, I had never seen his legs!”
For that race, Melo recalls she and her father were a little nervous, but in his eagerness he moved to the front and as the starting gun was shot, he took off.
“On the freeway, you see the other side so I’m looking for him in the crowd and all of a sudden, I see my dad coming back! He got excited and took off. It just so happened he came in first in his age group. That was the start of his running career and he was hooked. He was 56, I think.”
Paredes took part in the 2018 Selma Raisin Festival Fun Run as his last race at the age of 94.
“His last half-marathon was when he was 89,” Melo said. “I said, ‘dad all you have to do is finish because there’s no one in your age group to beat you.’ So he did. He won.”
Melo said as her father got older, he couldn’t drive to Fresno so she’d pick him if he wanted to run in races there. But since they lived just a few houses away from Lincoln Park, he’d always make the Raisin Festival run.
“Last year, he didn’t tell us he was going to run it. But I came to visit Saturday and he’s sitting there on the porch with a medal on his neck. I think he believed it would allow him to live longer and keep him healthy. He had two fights with cancer though – colon and prostrate. That last one was the one that took him at 94 years of age,” she said.
For the 2019 event, Paredes’ relatives came from around the state to watch or take part in the run. His wife, Carmen Paredes, stood proudly cheering on the runners as they returned from the two-mile course. Her daughters recall that when their mother was an eighth grader, Carmen was known for being “a pretty good hurdler when she was growing up in Arizona,” so perhaps it’s only natural that one of their daughters, a grandson, and even a granddaughter took up running at different points in their lives.
It’s Gloria Grijalva’s son, Chris, who ran cross country in high school. When he was younger, he’d run with his grandfather and said all his recollections are of him as a runner.
“I ran with him when I was younger. It was always the running truth in our family that he was in better shape than all of us, no matter what our age was. I live in Ventura County and we came down just for this. I haven’t run a race in 20 years but I know his trail still.”
Roseann Galvan has helped organize the race ever since it began and said the Kiwanis Club has taken on sponsorship for past 12 years. Their goal is to raise scholarship funds and this year she said they raised nearly $1,000 for graduating seniors.
As she was looking at previous years’ results, John Paredes’ name kept popping up.
“Even last year he was here. He was into his 90s and it was funny, when he’d hit a new decade he’d say ‘you have to add a new category’ because he’d reached a new decade category. He was a well-known runner in the running community, but he’d come out and support us every year.”
Galvan said runners become friends as she herself used to run years before. Others, such as David Cuevas and Dr. Stan Louie, have been running in the race for at least 20 years, she added. There’s something about the building the endurance that build friendships, she said.
“I think what’s appealing is it’s a challenge to finish a race and it’s an accomplishment. The runners also like getting the awards, especially the kids. This is a community race so you don’t have hundreds of people here. Runners know they have an opportunity to win something.”
For the 2019 event, Galvan said there were at most 40 people.
Cousins Lee Medina and Vince Hernandez were among the first runners returning to Lincoln Park. Once they heard of Paredes’ longevity as a runner they were immediately impressed.
“That’s inspiring. I like hearing about older people racing,” Hernandez said. He has a goal to continue getting fit and losing weight but realizes many aren’t up for the challenge. They hoped examples like Paredes’ will inspire others as well.
“Getting healthy isn’t just about you. If you can motivate other people to do it, that’s the goal because it spreads,” Hernandez added.
Once the ribbons had been awarded and group pictures of the family and racers taken, Carmen Paredes said she thinks her husband would be humbled to know the race was renamed after him.
“Linda was the one that took him at the beginning. She’d encourage him and he’d run in his Levi’s. He didn’t want to show his legs. Later on, he got the courage and that was it. From that day on, he kept on running. They wrote about him in the newspaper and they called him ‘the marathon man’ in the headline. He always felt good after a run.”