Approaching Thursday’s 30th anniversary of the 28,000-strong Mercedes-Benz Miami Corporate Run, race director Laurie Huseby instantly knew her most memorable years:
▪ 1993, when the official starter mistakenly signaled 8,700 participants to begin while a police car ahead of the starting line sat with its front doors open, a flood of runners miraculously avoiding the car.
▪ 2011, when more than 20,000 participants were halted in their tracks as a drawbridge over the Miami River unexpectedly opened.
“Crazy,’’ Huseby, 63, said. “The rest are a blur. It’s like having kids. They’ve grown up in front of your eyes and all of a sudden they’re 30 years old.”
Be assured the list of memory-makers will soon include 2015 — the first Miami Corporate Run without well-loved co-race director John “Hans” Huseby, who was 64 when he died in his sleep of a heart attack last November. In Hans’ absence, the already indomitable Huseby family is rallying to make this year extraordinary.
In recent years, Hans “the dreamer’’ wanted Laurie “the pragmatist” to approve postrace fireworks,’’ said Laurie, Hans’ wife of 42 years. “But the race’s executive committee’’ — that’s Laurie — emphatically said it was “a frivolous, ridiculous’’ expense.
“This year,’’ she said, “we’re going for it.’’
The race begins at 6:45 p.m. on Biscayne Boulevard at Bayfront Park, and shortly after the 8:30 p.m. awards ceremony, a 10-minute fireworks display will light up the sky from a barge in Biscayne Bay.
“I’m very sad because I miss him terribly,’’ Laurie said, “but I’m so busy that I can’t wallow in it. I am a very strong girl from Minnesota and Hans wouldn’t want me to sit around and be sad.’’
So, as usual, she is zooming around in overdrive and preparing for another Miami record field from nearly 900 companies. With the help of a daughter and three sons, including JP Huseby, who already had a major role in the race production, the family has pulled together for the event.
Kristoffer, 31, quit his job as a line cook for award-winning chef Michael Schwartz at The Cypress Room to work in the FootWorks family business and help put on the series of 5K Corporate Runs that include Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
Siah, 42, flew in Sunday from his home in Middleburg, Florida, to work the race.
Daughter Kimberly Kivitis flew in Monday from Washington, D.C., to help organize and then run the race with JP’s 8-year-old son, Nicolas.
FootWorks running store in South Miami has been the area’s nerve center for runners and walkers since the mid 1970s. The family added a Miami Beach location in 2012.
Hans and Laurie met when they were sophomores at Southwest High in Minneapolis. She was the headstrong, fast-talking, get-it-done girl and he was the sweet, handsome, compassionate kid who excelled at hockey and made folks feel good about themselves.
It was the behind-the-scenes Hans, who every Friday night, including the night he died, drove to Cocoplum Circle to set up several orange coolers of water and fitness drinks for the running community.
“He took such pride in it,’’ Laurie said.
Now it’s officially Kristoffer’s job.
“My dad was a harder worker than any of us,’’ JP, 39, said. “He dealt with the permitting, municipalities, police, fire rescue… On a number of levels it’s been very difficult, but I keep thinking about how he’d want me to feel and carry myself.
“It’s sort of bittersweet, but dad’s passing has really brought us a lot closer. We’re carrying the torch, so to speak.’’
Hans was a former marathoner and second-degree black belt in Shotokan karate. The morning after he died, the unknowing Laurie went for her usual run and left him “sleeping.’’ Later, she found him “lying there peacefully with his eyes closed and his head on his arm. Hans is the lucky one. He got to live such a great life — no suffering.’’
More than 1,000 people, including South Miami police sergeant and vocalist Henry Guzman, gathered in front of the FootWorks store four days later for an elaborate memorial.
Guzman belted out Amazing Grace.
“Do you realize all the things he did for our city?’’ said Guzman, whose department recently gave out its first “John ‘Hans’ Huseby Memorial Award’’ to the South Miami Police Explorer of the Year. “This guy was, in my opinion, gold. I was choked up trying to sing.’’
The Huseby children have memories of growing up around the Corporate Run. JP loved watching the sea of runners stream down Biscayne Boulevard.
Kristoffer, who was a baby when the 1,300-participant inaugural race was born in 1985 as part of the Manufacturers Hanover Corporate Challenge series, recalled “being in a fight at school in eighth or ninth grade and having to bring a detention slip’’ for his dad to sign an hour before the race.
“I found my dad in the chaos and was absolutely terrifed,’’ he said. “Luckily, he was so busy that he signed it and moved on to something else.’’
Last April, Hans told the Miami Herald how thrilled he was with the event and how exhilarating it could be for people to be active together.
“That shared experience of fitness and breaking down barriers in the workplace can be fun,’’ he said, “just by something as simple as walking and extending those ripples on the pond.
“Yeah, we still have all the problems we had before, but now we have more energy to face them.’’