The Running Man

By: Jeff Skierka

Making a difference one step at a time.

For years I have observed an older man, always dressed in yellow, running along Lake Sammamish Parkway: Why does this very Zen-looking man run? How often? How far? How long has he run? I chatted with friends about him as well, and they too had seen him, but knew little. When I was given an opportunity to write forIssaquah Sammamish and beyond, I felt I had the perfect reason to see if I could get my questions about this mystery man answered. What I found out far exceeded my expectations.

Mel Romeu runs on Monday through Friday, 12 miles every day, 60 miles a week, 3,120 miles a year—and that’s only the start of this man’s amazing life and lifestyle. Romeu was born in Puerto Rico in 1934, making him a young man of 77. He spent time in Japan with DODDS (Department of Defense Dependent Schools) as a high school and college teacher, where he met his wife of 42 years: Dorothy.  He spent 27 years teaching in Bitburg, Germany as well as in various cities in America. He has been running most of his life, and while in Europe he completed 11 marathons. This includes one in Munich after the 1972 Olympics and one along the Berlin Wall prior to its removal. He shared with me that he clocked his best time in a marathon in Luxemburg that started at 6 p.m.  Unfamiliar with the route, Mel said, “I got in with a fast group as I was afraid of getting lost if I let them get too far ahead of me.” The most beautiful marathon was run at night in the “City of Lights” – Paris!  Traffic was stopped for the event, and the city lights made it a magical run.

After Romeu retired from teaching, he and Dorothy decided to move back to the U.S. in 1996. They purchased a book titled The Best 50 place to live in America. After visiting only a few cities on the list they found and fell in love with their home in Issaquah.

Getting to know Mel is like learning how to live life. A typical day starts with a healthy breakfast of one banana, a bowl of fruit and nut granola, and some coffee, always sweetened. (He has a bit of a sweet tooth.) This is followed by his favorite TV show, The Golden Girls, and then his daily run.

Romeu says that now that he runs at a slower pace, he is able to see more things as he runs. One thing his eyes are always looking for is what he calls “street money.” This money is collected during his run, even if it has to be “popped out” of the asphalt. He saves it for a year and then gives it to a charity. He collects more than 10 pounds of “street money” every year. The grateful recipients always tease Romeu about how dirty the money is. Other items that catch his watchful eye include discarded furniture pieces; he returns to them after his run and picks up, cleans, and donates them to charities such as Goodwill. He also attends to animals that have been struck and killed by autos.

Romeu always runs on Lake Sammamish Parkway for two reasons: He finds more money and “gifts” along the busy road, and if he should happen to get injured a lot more people would be able to see and help him.

The only thing that deters Romeu from his daily run is ice on the road; otherwise, every weekday is a day to run and serve. While most people, would pass on days with snow on the ground, Romeu’s attitude is that God has laid out a white carpet for him to run on that is better than any red carpet. When he is not running you can find him attending church at St. Joseph’s, serving spaghetti for fundraising events for the Knights of Columbus, serving as cantor at St. Anthony’s Church in Renton for Spanish services, or doing volunteer work at the corrections facility church in Marysville.

Romeu’s lifestyle has kept him very healthy; he believes that prevention is better than cures, and he lives every day to the fullest, knowing that all he has is today. He also believes in eating less, and donates the money he saves to worthy causes. One of the things that he is the most proud of was getting to meet Mother Teresa. He says he was very moved by this experience. I cannot imagine how that felt, but I do know that I was completely moved by meeting this remarkable man.