Now, the venerable Buckhead-based institution — the host of the Peachtree Road Race and the second largest running organization in the nation with about 20,000 members — is both honoring its storied past and looking ahead to the future as it celebrates its 50th anniversary.
The club is marking that milestone under new leadership, with Rich Kenah taking over as its fifth executive director in February.
“It’s a fun time to come into the organization,” said Kenah, who replaced Tracey Russell, now the chief executive officer of the Asics L.A. Marathon. “We’re celebrating 50 years and looking forward to our next 50. We’re very much focused on the region and Atlanta. When I arrived, we started a strategic planning process, where we looked at what our vision and our mission would be for the next 50 years and I’m excited to be part of the planning for the next 50 years of the Atlanta Track Club.”
Assisting Kenah in the transition into his new job were a number of long-time employees of the club — Elizabeth Unislawski (finance, elite athlete coordinator, 25 years), Brantley Sherrer (event operations, 22 years), Janet Monk (sponsor relationships, 20 years), Lisa Tanner (director of events, 17 years) and Andy Carr (event operations, 15 years).
“This organization is filled with people who have forgotten more about the organization that I know,” Kenah said. “So it’s a great comfort to walk into the office and knowing that we have people who have institutional knowledge around the growth of the organization and that we have people who have a real passion for the organization and its mission.”
The club was created in 1964 from the merger of two existing organizations: the Atlanta Striders, which was founded in 1958, and the Metro Atlanta Track Coaches Association, which was established in 1962.
The club achieved a major milestone in its 50th anniversary year earlier this month when it reached the 20,000-member mark, coming a long way from its beginnings, when it started out with about 50 members in 1964.
“It was a large organization when I started here,” Unislawski said. “Membership-wise, it has just taken off. The numbers keep growing and the events keep going on strong. Just the office — we had seven or eight people working here when I first started here and now we’re up to 21 and everybody’s busy all the time. So it’s just a buzzing place — it keeps us going.”
A big component of the club’s success is its large number of volunteers who assist in the operation of its 30 events — including the Peachtree — every year.
“We’re over 12,000 strong in our volunteer database,” Tanner said. “If you look at the 30-plus events we do every year, you see that those volunteers are the cornerstone of our organization. Without those volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish what we do.”
The Peachtree, which began in 1970, is the club’s cornerstone event, with 60,000 participants taking part in the annual July 4 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) race.
The organization also hosts a number of other races throughout the year, including the Atlanta Half Marathon on Thanksgiving Day and the Atlanta 10-Miler at Atlantic Station in Midtown in late October.
It also supports high school cross country and track, sponsoring All-Metro teams in both sports and honoring selectees with banquets at Westminster every fall (cross country) and spring (track), as well as youth running with its Kilometer Kids program.