By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – A native son will give a recovering city a distraction for a half hour on Saturday morning.
He’ll give Tupelo a cause to cheer.
Robert Scribner, 28, moved to Tupelo when he was 2 and graduated from Tupelo High in 2004 before running track and cross country at Mississippi State University. On Saturday, he’ll seek to become the first runner who grew up here to win the Gum Tree 10K in recent memory, since the race began drawing elite runners from around the world.
“For me personally, since this race means so much, it means a lot that it is still going on,” Scribner said on Tuesday, before speaking to the Lawndale Elementary Running Club. “I can’t pretend me winning the race or placing in the top-3 means as much as people working to put the city back together.”
The professional runner will be among the favorites in Saturday’s race, which begins at 8:30 a.m. and weaves through the city. He placed second in the event in 2010 and was third in 2011, the last time he ran it. Scribner placed second in last weekend’s Coke 10K in Corinth.
“I’m in the best shape I’ve been in,” he said. “I can’t control how people run, but even if I get fifth place, if I do my best, I can be happy with that.”
He now lives in Starkville, where he trains and serves as a volunteer coach at MSU. Yet Scribner still considers Tupelo home and has long had a goal of winning a race he first entered when he was 15. Those emotions will be even stronger as he navigates a course that brings him through the Joyner neighborhood that was hit hard by the April 28 tornado.
Scribner attended Joyner Elementary School in kindergarten and first grade. He’s run through the neighborhood and has friends who live in it.
“Being a local, that has to be on your mind, running through there,” he said. “For someone else, it won’t have the same resonance.”
On Tuesday, he tried to inspire a new generation of local running stars, emphasizing to the elementary students that hard work is the key to success in the sport. Lawndale PE teacher Bo Boatner, who directs the school’s running club, hoped his students were inspired by Scribner’s quest.
“It would be storybook,” Boatner said of what it would mean if Scribner does win this year’s race. “It is wonderful him just taking a shot, especially considering what the city went through 12 days before the race. It will be special.”