Olympic gold medal-winning speed skater Casey FitzRandolph returns as honorary Madison Mini Marathon starter
Published: 8/5/2013

"I want to encourage anybody who is even remotely considering signing up for the Madison Mini Marathon to do it. Put that goal in place and use it as a catalyst—not just for a really fun morning and a very satisfying, gratifying end result—but for a healthy season here in Wisconsin." – Casey FitzRandolph

Olympic gold medal-winning speed skater Casey FitzRandolph will serve as the official race starter for the 5th annual Madison Mini Marathon, as he has done in each of the past four years. FitzRandolph—along with Bucky Badger and the UW-Madison Marching Band—is a participant favorite, providing energy, enthusiasm, and hundreds of high fives to athletes and volunteers from the moment he waves the green flag until the last runner has crossed the finish line.

As excited as Madison Mini participants and organizers are to have FitzRandolph’‘s support, it’‘s clear that the enthusiasm is mutual.

"I think we live in an awesome place, and it’‘s because of things like the Madison Mini that enhance our quality of life and our health," FitzRandolph enthused. "I like to do what I can to contribute and to continue to make Madison such a great place to live."

FitzRandolph is a native son of the Madison area. He grew up and went to school in nearby Verona, while involving himself in the Madison Speed Skating Club, an organization that has produced at least one member of every US Olympic Speed Skating Team since 1972. He later attended Carroll College in Waukesha, near Milwaukee’‘s Pettit National Ice Center, where his skating career fully blossomed.

FitzRandolph went on to participate in three Olympic Games—1998 in Nagano, Japan, 2002 in Salt Lake City, Utah—where he won his gold in the 500 meters and set the Olympic record for that event that still stands—and 2006 in Torino, Italy.

Years earlier, the spark that ignited FitzRandolph’‘s passion for speed skating first flew on an icy lagoon in Madison’‘s own Vilas Park, shortly after watching fellow Madison area resident Eric Heiden win five gold medals during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York.

"In a five-year old’‘s head, it’‘s as simple as, ‘‘Last weekend I went out to the Vilas Park lagoon and beat a handful of other little boys on skates. Eric Heiden just won five gold medals and he’‘s from Madison. I’‘m pretty good, so why can’‘t I?’‘" FitzRandolph recalled.

FitzRandolph espouses a similar "can do" attitude when it comes to the Madison Mini Marathon, insisting that Olympic-level talent is not required to challenge oneself athletically or achieve personal fitness goals.

"One thing that has always amazed me is when you participate in or watch these kinds of events, whether it’‘s a half marathon, a marathon, or even an iron man, is the people of all shapes, sizes, and ages," FitzRandolph observed. "Thirteen miles is a long way to run, but the human body is capable of doing great things, and I mean almost anybody. It’‘s just a simple matter of preparation, like anything else in life. So start now, start small, don’‘t overdo it, and if, in the end, you’‘re not there yet this year, then run the 5K and set your sights on the half marathon next year."

FitzRandolph admits that a growing number of organized runs exists for both casual fitness enthusiasts and competitive athletes, but says he particularly enjoys the Madison Mini Marathon due to its impeccable organization and its proximity to the vibrant activity and sights of summer in downtown Madison, along Lake Mendota.

"The Madison Mini is a slick event, from a participant’‘s standpoint," FitzRandolph said. "It’‘s usually nice and cool and crisp in the morning when we start, and when you’‘re done it’‘s perfect weather to transition back to the Memorial Union. You cross the finish line and there are dozens of volunteers right there making sure you have food and beverage to replenish and that you’‘re getting your participant medal right away. Then you’‘ve got your workout in for the day, and then some, and you get to relax right there. It’‘s such a perfect way to roll into a summer weekend in Wisconsin."

Noting the family-friendly quality of the Mini Marathon, FitzRandolph said that his wife and their two children, who are six and four years old, are excited to participate in the 5K and kids’‘ race that accompany the half marathon. He emphasized that the race is not only an opportunity for families to engage in healthy activity together, but that proceeds from the race support a cause that many families and individuals can appreciate—the Healthy Women Healthy Babies Fund administered through the UW-Madison Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

"I remember, before the birth of our first child, thinking, ‘‘I want this to be a healthy child that enjoys life, period,’‘" FitzRandolph said. "Whether it’‘s a boy or a girl, whether or not she’‘s good looking or a star athlete, if she’‘s healthy and she grows up smiling, then I’‘ll consider myself very fortunate."

"You don’‘t think about all of the things that can go wrong," he continued. "The things that parents do and don’‘t have control over, and the choices that they make throughout that pregnancy, and even prior, can affect the health and happiness of their children. So I’‘m just a really big believer in women taking care of themselves prior to and during pregnancy to increase their odds of having that healthy and happy child."

Now a business insurance account executive with Madison’‘s M3 Insurance, FitzRandolph devotes much of his free time to his family, his love for the outdoors, and the two farms within driving distance of Madison that he owns and oversees. These activities inevitably leave less time for athletic pursuits, which consumed most of the first three decades of his life. When asked to predict his own time if he were to retire as honorary race starter in order to participate in the Madison Mini Marathon as a runner, he hesitated.

"I’‘ve got a lot of miles on this body for a 38-year old," he remarked, with a weary laugh.

After thinking for a moment, and taking his own advice—steady preparation—he arrived at a more-than-respectable estimate.

"I’‘d have to be serious about it between now and August. Thirteen miles? I’‘d run eight-minute miles (1 hour, 44 minutes)," but added that he has more fun experiencing the accomplishment vicariously through the friends and community members he comes out to support each year.