Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame: Cecil Cheves makes late run to glory

Mike Haskey 
 Cecil Cheves. 0 1/21/16
Mike Haskey Cecil Cheves. 0 1/21/16

Cecil Cheves has always been an athlete -- and a pretty good one.

Back in his days at Columbus High School in the mid-1960s, Cheves was a role player on some good high school basketball teams. But he knew his job.

"Feed the ball to the horses -- Larry Davenport and Dan Kirkland," Cheves remembered.

Much later in life, Cheves became the horse.

About 20 years ago, the Columbus attorney turned 45 and turned to endurance sports and what ensued can only be called a healthy addiction. He started with 5K runs and worked his way up the ladder to Ironman Triathlons, an extreme test of stamina that can last 14 hours or more of swimming, cycling and running.

At 66, Cheves will be entering the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame this month, not for what he did as a high school basketball player, but for what he has done later in life.

"I am absolutely stunned and humbled to even be in the same conversation as athletes I really, really respect," Cheves said last month as he reflected on his accomplishment. "Having grown up and played ball all my life and been what I call a role player on very good teams, it almost embarrasses me a little bit to be going into a Hall of Fame with Ron Yarborough and Bill Jordan and Joe Lee Dunn and Bobby Howard and these guys that I looked up to."

Cecil Cheeves talks about the honor of being chosen to be inducted into the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame. He is one of five members of the hall of fame's class of 2016.

But Cheves knows why he is joining the Hall on Feb. 20 with a class that includes businessman and golfer Jimmy Blanchard, cheerleading coach Pam Carter, former Spencer High School basketball coach and tennis player Speedy Gilstrap and former Carver High School and Ohio State University football star Tim Walton.

"I realize that what I am being recognized for is an endurance sport at an older age," Cheves said. "That is a different

spot than those guys did."

And he has done it well.

He has completed 60 full marathons, which cover a distance of 26.2 miles. Five times, he has competed in the prestigious Boston Marathon, the last time in 2010. He has done 15 full "Ironman" events. An Ironman is a difficult test for recreational athletes because it requires a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile run.

At 64, Cheves qualified for and completed the "Ironman World Championship" in Hawaii. His performance there, earned him the right to represent the United States in the World Championships in China in 2014.

Cheves has also been a key organizer and supporter for local events, including the Soldier Marathon, which attracted nearly 2,000 participants in November during its sixth annual running.

Cecil Cheeves talks about one of his many memories of competing in triathlons. He is one of five athletes selected for the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame's class of 2016.

Central High School baseball Coach Bobby Howard knows Cheves well and said there is no question he belongs in the local Hall of Fame.

"Cecil has been a model for fitness and leadership in this community," Howard said. "His fitness level is insane."

Howard, a couple of years younger than Cheves, often competes in some of the same events with Cheves.

"Any time Cevil Cheves shows up in your age group, you know immediately that you are competing for second or third," Howard said.

Columbus endurance runner John Teeples has been with Cheves throughout the journey. Teeples, who runs extreme distances -- such as across Georgia -- on a regular basis, tells a story to illustrate Cheves' determination and drive.

At 65, Cheves registered to run the "Lake Martin 100 Mile Run," a grueling 30-hour trail run in Alabama.

"He had been low-key about it, but it is an extreme test of endurance," Teeples said. The only way do that is have a crew and pacers to help you get through. He didn't reach out to anybody. He was going over by his lonesome."

Teeples would have none of it, telling Cheves he would meet him at the 50-mile mark and pace him to the finish line. After 12 hours of running, Cheves reached the halfway point on a course that was muddy because of heavy rain.

"There was four inches of mud on that trail and just standing up was a challenge," Teeples said. "He was falling head first, tail first, all sorts of ways into the mud."

As they slogged through the middle of the night, the pace slowed dramatically.

"Cecil looked at his watch and said, 'There is no way I am going to make the 30-hour cutoff,' " Teeples said. "At the pace we were going he was going to miss it by an hour or more."

At the 75-mile mark, Teeples offered his friend some advice and encouragement.

"I told him to forget about the watch, forget about the time, enjoy being out here and just keep moving," Teeples said.

Cheves fell in behind the more experienced endurance running.

"When we got to the finish, he thought we had missed the cutoff by about 30 minutes," Teeples said. "We had actually beaten the cutoff by a half hour."

It was an incredible accomplishment, Teeples said.

"His drive to get that done was unbelievable," Teeples said. "I don't know if I could do that at 64 or 65."

Cecil Cheeves is one of five athletes selected for the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame's class of 2016.

Mike Stephens, an accomplished local runner and high school cross country coach at Shaw and Smiths Station, was Cheves' first coach in the mid-1990s. Stephens was helping Cheves prepare for his first marathon.

He laughs when asked how Cheves came to this later in life.

"I don't know if the 40s is late in life," Stephens said. "But he did have talent that he was not really aware of."

When he ran his first race, Country's Midnight Run, Cheves found it appealing for a variety of reasons.

"I had never done long distances. I had never done endurance sports. Everything I had done relied on my quickness," he said. "I could run to first base. I could run the basketball court. The idea of running 3 miles, I couldn't get mind around it."

But eventually he did in the biggest of ways.

"Recognizing the changes in the body, running north-south became smarter as you got older than the east-west sports," he said.

"Because of the hips, knees and ankles, east-west doesn't work any more in the 40s and 50s. That is when you see guys crumpling to the ground because their mind says I can still make that move, but the body says not so fast."

On his 60th birthday, Cheves competed against himself -- and he won. He ran 60 miles, cycled another 60 miles and swam 60 laps on a Lake Oliver course behind his home.

With that as a background, his goal was to compete in the "Ironman World Championship" in Hawaii.

"The challenge was I wanted to go to Hawaii," said Cheves. "It was the carrot, but you have to qualify. I Pursued dream for 10 years."

He came close to earning the needed time to get into the Hawaii event. Then, he found a way.

"Hawaii put a new rule in that said if you did 12 Ironmen, they put you in special lottery and invite you,"

He got his invitation at age 64.

It's all about setting goals and working to accomplish them, Cheves said.

"When you have a focus on a goal and you pursue it, it's a sweet spot," he said. "One of sweetest spots is to stay in the moment and stay concentrated."

Now, closing in on 70 years old, his goals are changing.

"Now, I am doing events because I think it's a neat place to go and a neat experience," he said.

"That is a different goal than trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon."

His next big race is the April Big Sur Marathon.

"Just the thought of running along the coast in California is appealing to me," Cheves said.

Chuck Williams, 706-571-8510, Follow Chuck on Twitter 66

High school: Columbus High School, 1967

College: University of Georgia, degree in business finance, 1971; Samford University, Cumberland School of Law, juris doctorate, 1974; Emory University, master's in tax law.

Ties to Columbus: Has spent most of his 66 years in Columbus. He has been a successful local attorney and philanthropist.

You need to know: Cheves took up running at age 45 and ventured into triathlons. He has done 15 full Ironman events, which include a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run.

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