The Severna Park Runner leaves tread on community


August 22, 2002|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

SEVERNA PARK resident David Jernigan was just beginning his daily 10-mile run when a thunderstorm hit. Too far from home to turn back, he sought refuge at a friend's house.

But, the friends weren't home, the house had no front porch and the outdoorsman, he admits, is "terrified of lightning."

"I flattened myself against their front door," he says, "with this petrified look on my face and my hands spread out like I'm being crucified."

Now he checks the Weather Channel before he runs."

Jernigan has made a name for himself in the annals of local running, but if people don't actually know his name, they've seen the man. A world history teacher at Old Mill High School, he admits his running style is slightly unorthodox.

"My style is my own natural movement," he says. "I flop along, but it's my flop."

En route, he listens to "all kinds of music, rock, religious and country." Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson are his favorites.

His wife, Nancy, an elementary school teacher in Southwest Baltimore, says that all she has to do is tell someone that her husband is the "Severna Park Runner," and "they know exactly who I mean." She leaves the running to her husband, preferring to walk the trail in Kinder Farm Park.

Jernigan, who just turned 51, says it was a family funeral that caused him to take up running almost 16 years ago. Describing himself as "far from athletic and not naturally thin," he says watching his family "eat their way to an early grave" was all the motivation he needed.

He began by running around the track at Severna Park High School, working up from three miles a day to 10. He ran the track for nearly five years, but when "that got boring," he took to the streets and the B&A Trail. He would leave his Chartwell home and run as far as the Health Center on B&A Boulevard.

"When I was 50, I cut back to Dawsons," he says. He figures he'll reduce his distance again in maybe five or 10 years.

Most days, he runs between 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. He only uses his treadmill when there's a heavy snowfall. "I hate to see winter come," says Jernigan. "It's not the weather, it's the dark." He runs earlier in winter. On hot days when the air quality is bad, he stays in the neighborhood and does his "Chartwell run."

Jernigan recalls one painful experience in 1989 when he was not deterred by the weather.

"We had just moved to Chartwell. ... It was a hot, humid day and I'd gone out and run more than 10 miles," he said. Then he decided to mow the lawn and had just finished the front yard when he went inside for water.

"Suddenly every muscle started to cramp from my fingers to my toes," he says. He got into the family's whirlpool, but that was a mistake.

By the time his wife got home, Jernigan says he was "screaming, `Help.'" Every time he moved, the water jets sent his muscles into a new spasm. Over the phone, the family doctor told them to call 911. When the rescue squad arrived, he says, "They had to take me out in one of those dead baskets."

One of the medical technicians said, "Is that you Mr. Jernigan?'" She turned out to be a former student.

Jernigan is hard on running shoes; he goes through a pair every four to six weeks.

"I run the soles and everything else off the shoes," he says.

Five years ago, he developed a sciatic nerve problem and couldn't sit without pain. He says it was tough being an Episcopalian, all that "thanking God, up and down." The solution was to wear knee braces.

The couple's daughter, Alison, a graduate nurse at Syracuse University, holds running records at Severna Park Middle School. Their son, David, who ran track at Severna Park High School, is in the Navy.

"Running gives you a different perspective on life," says David Jernigan, "time to open your mind. If it weren't for running I don't know how I'd teach with the energy I teach with."

As he enters his 30th year of teaching, he says, "When I retire, whatever my next job is, it will center around my running."

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