Ties to Judaism quite literally run deep for pair of Channel 4 co-workers
BY MATT FRANZBLAU
Whether it's a short conversation during a work break or a brief kibbitz in the middle of a water break, there are two members of the Jacksonville Jewish community who have become a familiar sight for one another at various professional, recreational and religious events and activities.
Jacksonville natives Rachael Rice and Eric Wallace both grew up in the local Jewish community, are both employed at WJXT-Channel 4 and quite literally cross paths while training for long distance races within the same running circles.
"I see him pretty much every day in passing because we work in different departments at Channel 4," Rice explained. "On Saturdays, because we belong to the same running group, I see him then, but he is faster than I am, so when I see him, he is usually way ahead of me."
While the two TV employees try and set the pace out on the pavement, they enjoy taking a few minutes to catch up in the halls of the TV station where they both work.
"I'll pass her in the hallways a couple times a week and its nice because being in the news department, you don't often know many people up in sales, but she is one of the few people I do know in that department," Wallace said.
Wallace is a producer for Channel 4 and has been for the past 15-years, recently being named senior producer, while Rice serves as an account executive, securing advertising which is then broadcast over the airwaves. The pairs' connection runs beyond just the races and the tube as it extends to the Jacksonville Jewish community.
"I grew up at the Temple and my family lived right down the street from there," Rice described of her connection to Jacksonville's only reform congregation. "My grandmother designed the stained glass windows at the Temple and my great-grandmother needled pointed the coverings for the Torahs."
Wallace sometimes even sees his co-worker and fellow running club member outside of the office and off the beaten path at rGEN events in the Jewish community. While the pair have taken two very different journeys to their now most prized passion, each are equally dedicated, often lacing up their sneakers at early hours and in unstable weather conditions.
"It doesn't matter if it's raining, lighting, a tornado or a hurricane, we're running," said Rice of her abnormally normal routine. "I started running half-marathons and now have done about 55 of them along with eight marathons, which I have done all over the world."
Rice's runnings have taken her to races in Hawaii, Las Vegas, New York, Washington and even the Great Wall in China. Contrary to his counterpart, Wallace sticks to races in Jacksonville and around the U.S., having competed in an equally impressive total of about a dozen 13.1 milers and four 26.2 mile races.
"I've run the Marine Corps Half Marathon in Jacksonville, the Subaru half-marathon on Thanksgiving Day, the Donna (half and full marathon), the Gate River Run and even something called the Tour de Pain Extreme, which is a half marathon, a 5k and a 10k in 24 hours," Wallace listed of his recent races here in the River City.
Unlike Rice, who has been honing her strides for the better part of 20-years now, Wallace only picked up the sport during this decade, deciding to join his co-workers in a recreational jog back in the winter of 2011.
"Our station has always had a large group of runners and a couple of my co-workers were going to go on a seven mile run after work one night and asked me if I wanted to join them," He remembered of his initial introduction. After agreeing to buddy up with them for the first three of seven miles, Wallace realized he bit off a bit more than he could chew.
"I didn't really have a sense of how far three miles was, so I ended up doing alternating intervals of running with them and having to then walk because I was absolutely exhausted."
After just 3/4 of a mile, Wallace threw in the towel and went the other direction, but that day consequently took his life in another direction as he would soon run his first 5k three months later, and his initial half marathon a year and a half after that. He eventually competed in his first marathon in December, 2013 and recently took part in the Chicago Marathon last fall finishing in 3:52.14, completing a full transformation from desk jockey to avid athlete.
"They say that there are 1.7 million people watching that race in the streets as the crowds are probably five to 10 deep, almost every inch of that course," he described. "I had just an amazing experience running that race."
Rice's experience with her hobby started in her early 20's, when like her counterpart, realized she was out of shape and needed an outlet to help lead to a healthier lifestyle.
"I was actually overweight when I was younger and I lost a lot of weight because I was sick," she recalled. "But I had a lot of friends who were runners and I decided to run with them, thinking 'anyone can run', but little did I know I couldn't run from the front door to my mailbox without being out of breath."
That wake-up call spurned a change in the then novice runner, who took to the course at night with her friends because it was less hot but also for another more pointed reason.
"I didn't want to run during the day because I wouldn't want people to see me as I was embarrassed," she admitted. "So if I ran at night and if they don't see me, it's almost as if it wasn't happening."
But happening it was, as Rice's strides became larger and her confidence grew with each time out on a jog.
"Slowly I would increase little markers along the way and little did I know because I wasn't seeing distance wise how far I was going, I was running a mile within a couple weeks," she remembered. "I was like, 'oh my gosh, I couldn't believe that light post was a mile' and just two months before that I couldn't even run to the mailbox."
After developing a sense of enjoyment and pleasure for her new found knack, Rice encouraged others who were living her once lazy lifestyle to get off the couch and join her on runs across the community.
"I started helping other kids, teenagers and people in their 20s and they would just run with me," she said. "We would go to a certain distance and then walk and before you knew it they were calling me Forrest Gump."
But instead of run Forrest run, it was run Rachael run, and that she did, all the way to long treks and organized events such as 5k's, 10k's half marathons and eventually a full one, which developed into multiple 26.2 mile races. It wasn't until just within the last year though that her ability to do what she loved was put in jeopardy due to the receipt of some startling news.
" I found out I had stage two appendix cancer and doctors thought it possibly spread to my colon, so I had half my colon removed," She described of her illness. "My biggest thought was, 'am I still going to be able to run?"
The answer to that question was a resounding yes as the now cancer survivor got back onto the roads of Jacksonville and the road to recovery, once she was fully healed from her procedure.
"I am still in a lot of pain but it's strange because when I'm running the pain isn't usually there," she described of her disappearing symptoms. "You would think if you're in pain it's going to hurt worse when you are running, but that is really not the case, which makes me think If I could run everywhere, that would probably be the best thing because I would never be in pain," she jokingly added.
But all joking aside, the serious manner in which she approaches her athletic responsibilities may have gone a long way in bringing her back to health.
"Honestly, I think running in a way saved my life, because it gave me that never give up mentality," she recalled. "You have a lot to think about when you find out you have cancer, and my biggest thing was finding what I needed to do to get my strength back so I could go out there and run again."
Those far reaching thoughts while lying in a hospital bed turned into tangible ones as she was back again doing what she loved, but with a different insight in to what surrounded her.
"We usually run very early in the morning, sometimes five or six o'clock, so there is nothing out there but you and nature, and when you see the sunrise, the birds chirping, I can't help but saying thank you to G-d for everything I have and for allowing me to be alive," Rice explained of her appreciation for how far she has come and what she has fought to overcome. "To me that's comforting to know that when I am out there, I have this surreal peace which is the same comfort I get when I walk into the Temple."
Similarly, Wallace obtains the same sense of peace from his long distance runs, finding a correlation between his passion and his religion.
"On a 20 mile run you have plenty of time to think and reflect about whatever you choose, so I think that kind of relates to Judaism because our religion wants you to reflect on what you have going on and to kind of come to your own conclusions about things," he said. "There is a route that we run through Riverside and we go over this little drawbridge into Ortega, you get the sunrise over the river, and downtown Jacksonville and it's just a really cool sight that makes you reflect on nature and thank G-d for all of that."
While the pace that both Wallace and Rice take while running vary, and even though their professional paths occasionally intersect, it's clear that they are both firmly in line with each other as passionate and dedicated members of the Jacksonville Jewish community, using their religion as motivation to enhance themselves both physically and emotionally.
This fall Rice will be following in her fellow running club members' footsteps as she plans to take part in the 2016 Chicago Marathon, while Wallace hopes to get back out on the course following some minor injuries and run in the Space Coast Half Marathon the Sunday after Thanksgiving. The pair both belong to PRS Running Club in Jacksonville, which stands for 'Personal Running Solutions.'