Zellah and Jerry Swartsley, returning home from graduate school at Montana State University, stopped in Salt Lake City where a marathon was held and Jerry would finish 8th. An idea was born on July 24, 1971 and six years later it would become a reality. The first Pear Blossom Run held in 1977 was won by Frank Shorter, Olympic Marathon Gold and Silver Medalist. Learn even more by reading the historical highlights by year below.
Thanks to Zellah and Jerry Swartsley who founded and led the Pear Blossom Run for the first 35 years. The race grew from 546 to 5,648 runners. Their caring, giving spirit drew in thousands of runners and volunteers throughout the years. Steven Buxton and Rich Stanfield with the YMCA, shown below with Jerry and Zellah, continued the tradition. The current Race Director is Chuck Whiteley. The Swartsley’s advice to the YMCA is “when in doubt, give it out.” The Rogue Valley Family YMCA is committed to carrying on their incredible legacy.
Historical Highlights by Year
July 24, 1971 – Zellah and Jerry Swartsley, returning home from graduate school at Montana State University, stopped in Salt Lake City where a marathon was held and Jerry would finish 8th. An idea was born! Six years later it would become a reality – The Pear Blossom Run.
1977 – Zellah and Jerry Swartsley hold the first Pear Blossom Run. Frank Shorter, Olympic Marathon Gold and Silver Medalist, is the first winner of the event. About 200 runners were expected yet 546 finished! Fun Fact: Runner numbers were cut by hand from vinyl using a yardstick and pinking shears then numbered with a sharpie.
1978 – The running boom was on! Pear Blossom became the first race in Oregon to have a “limited field” – 750 runners compete.
1979 – Computers were used for the first time in results. Governor Atiyeh started the race.
1980 – The race was broadcast on radio for the first time. Entries broke 1,000.
1981 – The race was changed from 13 miles to 20 kilometers. The race was televised for the first time.
1982 – The 1,500 limit was reached in three weeks.
1983 – The race was dedicated in honor of former Medford resident, Olympic coach, and founder of Nike, Bill Bowerman.
1984 – Fred Spiegelberg, an institution among Oregon football coaches, fired the starting gun. Entries broke 2,000 for the first time.
1985 – Pear Blossom was part of Medford’s 100 Year Centennial Celebration. A scholarship program was created. Zellah & Jerry Swartsley inducted as charter members to Medford Sports Hall of Fame.
1986 – A wheelchair division was initiated.
1988 – A trophy and VCR was given to the school with the greatest percentage of participants in the Mayor’s Cup. Mayor Lausmann started the event.
1989 – Mickey Mouse started the Mayor’s Cup.
1990 – Due to traffic and safety concerns the event is changed to 10 miles.
1991 – Pear Blossom exceeds 3,000 participants. A monument is dedicated at the starting line by Medford City Hall.
1992 – A two mile event was added to the Mayor’s Cup one mile event. Cash prizes were awarded to school libraries in the Mayor’s Cup.
1993 – Pear Blossom tops 4,000 participants.
1995 – A 5K race was added. Pear Blossom Run topped 5,000 participants. It snowed for the very first time on Pear Blossom weekend.
1997 – Thirty-four visitors from Medford’s sister city, Alba, Italy participated in the event.
1998 – Pear Blossom and the Portland Marathon were Oregon’s only selections as “One of the Best Runs in the U.S.”
2000 – A website www.pearblossomrun.com was established.
2003 – Deanna Schiedler-O’Neil wins her ninth Pear Blossom race.
2005 – Former scholarship winner, Max King returns home to become the first male 3-time winner while shattering the course record.
2007 – The Rogue Valley Family YMCA took over the Mayor’s Cup 1-mile and 2-mile fun run races. Online registration was added.
2008 – The chip, a state of the art, high-tech timing system utilizing a transponder attached to the shoe, was used for the first time in the 10 mile.
2010 – A disposable timing chip was used for the first time. Results for the 5K were kept for the first time.
2011 – The 5K race is named the Rogue Valley Medical Center Heart & Sole 5K. We began using the “chip in the number” chip for timing the events.
2012 – After thirty-five years, co-founders and race directors, Zellah & Jerry Swartsley, passed the baton, giving the 5K & 10 mile races to the Rogue Valley Family YMCA under the leadership of Brad Russell. Rich Stanfield and Steven Buxton become the new race directors.
2013 – The 5K race sets new all-time record of 2,132 runners registered.
2016 – 40th Anniversary with special shirts and medals.
2017 – Marci Klimek wins her sixth Pear Blossom 10 mile race. Cole Watson sets new 10 mile course record.
2019 – Chuck Whiteley becomes the Race Director.
2020 – Due to the Covid-19 global pandemic, the Pear Blossom Run is conducted virtually with 734 runners in the 5K and 10 Mile events entering in their own times from their own courses they ran individually. The Fun Runs were cancelled.
2021 – As the Covid-19 global pandemic continues, the Pear Blossom Run is conducted virtually again with a total of 623 in all races.
2022 – The in-person race returns with a virtual race option as the Covid-19 pandemic still lingers.