By Ann Leach
Henri Coeme has challenged himself as a runner for most of his life and joined a running club, the Joplin Roadrunners. He became club president three years ago. “We support all runners of any capacity,” Coeme said. “We leave no one behind and provide safety in numbers while running together several times a week.”
Helping to ensure he gets up and going is Coeme’s constant running partner and trainer, 10-year-old Miles, his dog. “He is always ready to push me out of the door and run with me,” Coeme said. Miles is an Australian Shephard and the only American-born member of the family.
Coeme was born in Belgium and spent several years living in the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka. Coeme immigrated to the United States in 1993 and became a citizen in 1997. He became the global sales manager for HIX Corporation in Pittsburg, Kansas, and established his family in Neosho in 2010.
His running life started at age 6 with having to fetch cigarettes for his parents, who were chain smokers. “They would tell me to hurry to the bookshop about a quarter of a mile away, so I ran five times a day as hard as I could,” he said.
A head injury from a balcony fall at age 8 put Coeme in a coma for a day. He was told to rest for a few days. With shopping to do, his mother left him alone for a few hours. “She came home to find me gone,” he said. “When I got back a few hours later, I hid my prize behind my back. It was a watch I won in a running contest in town.”
There were no sports teams at his high school, but students attended one hour of gym every week. The students were instructed to run a mile in the park. Coeme came in last and was shamed by the teacher. “I can point to that single fact as the start of my actual running career.” He joined a local running club at age 15 and improved his time significantly.
Coeme’s career sent him around the world and while on assignment in New York discovered it was the weekend of the New York City Marathon. “I worked my way into the hall and told the registration table worker that I had come all the way from Belgium to run this race and why couldn’t they find my bib registration,” he said. “Half an hour later, I had a bib and the next day I ran my first official marathon, completely unprepared and unregistered.”
He was later sent to Sri Lanka on assignment and signed up for the local marathon. “I was prepared for the tropical temperature and high humidity,” he said. “But I was not prepared to run during what had then turned into the local civil war. There was no starting official, so the race organizers found a soldier who was willing to fire a live round right over our heads. The first mile, we all ran real fast.”
Coeme’s world travels came to an end just before he turned 60. “This gave me more time to practice, and over a period of 10 years I would set about 40 age records in Missouri, winning in my age group at almost every one of the nearly 300 races I ran.”