Kelly Stewart

Age: 45
Resides: Newton
Family: Wife Joanna, Children Jade, Jacob, & Sydney
Occupation: North Carolina State Highway Patrol Line Sergeant, Endurance Runner, Founder/Owner RunTimeRaces, LLC


What do you do for a living?
I'm a Line Sergeant with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol. And when I'm on duty, I help manage the troopers in Catawba and Lincoln Counties. I spend most of my time doing performance appraisals, scheduling, responding to citizen inquiries, things of that nature.

I’m also an endurance runner. I run for stress relief. That's how I manage my stress. And that led me to becoming a business owner.

So those are my two professions, but I think one of my biggest responsibilities in this community, besides being a good husband, is raising productive children to be a positive contribution to society. The reason I place value on that is because I grew up in a broken family. My parents were divorced when I was three months old. I was bounced around some, but I pretty much grew up here my entire life.

Fast forward to now. My wife, who is a registered nurse for Catawba Regional Hospice, and I are approaching 25 years of marriage. We have a 23-year-old daughter, who graduated Wingate University and is now a second year teacher in California. She married a Marine, ironically enough, because I'm a Marine. Our son is 16, and he is a junior firefighter for the City of Conover. He feels like God's calling him into the fire service. And my youngest daughter is 13. Other than being an athlete, she has no idea what she wants to do, which is fine because she's 13.

So when you ask me about my profession, professionally, yes, I'm a trooper, and professionally, yes, we're small business owners within the county. But just as importantly, I have a responsibility not just to this community but also to society to raise productive children.

You mentioned that you pretty much grew up here.
Yes. I went to Sherrills Ford Elementary for part of my kindergarten year, but for the most part it was Newton-Conover schools. I graduated in '91.

I knew I wasn't ready to go to college, because I just didn't feel that was where I would be most productive. So I joined the United States Marine Corps. I reported October seventh of '91 and I graduated January third. I spent some time training in San Antonio, Texas as a military police officer and then went to Okinawa, Japan for a year.

While I was in Japan, my dad was killed in a traffic collision stateside. I flew home for the funeral. While I was home, I was grieving. My wife and I met on our senior trips at Myrtle Beach, and afterwards we corresponded back and forth. We had kind of gone our separate ways, because I was in Japan and she was in Kentucky. I found her number and called her, and we started talking. And we kept talking. When I came home from Japan the next time, I had a $1,300 phone bill. I reported to Camp Lejeune, and we were married June 26, 1993. And here we are with three children, and over two decades later.

When did you start running?
My first recollection is the Charlotte Observer marathon or half marathon event. I ran the 10K. That was my very first organized race, and I thought, “I kinda like this.” In the Marine Corps, obviously we ran all the time. We ran for Highway Patrol training too. When I graduated from Patrol School, I was so busy being a new dad and husband and a trooper, I just stopped running. And then at some point, I think because of the stress of the job, I started running again. My wife suggested I enter the 2011 October Fest 5K. I did, placed 3rd in my age-group, and I thought, I like this! So then I started training and it just went from there – a half marathon, an ultra, and then a marathon. I kind of did it backwards by running the ultra distance before the marathon.

How do you integrate endurance running into your life on a daily basis?
Average training week, if I'm on my game, is about 30 miles a week. But you have to push 50-60 miles a week when you start training for the longer races. I work it in when I can.

Without running, you probably wouldn't feel the same about who you are and how you approach each day.
I probably would be a very grumpy person if I couldn't run. I tell people it's one of the few places I can be by myself. I run with groups of people, but I can just get alone in my mind and solve a lot of problems. Sometimes I'll run two miles and not remember from here to there because I had something on my mind.

How did RunTimeRaces get started?
The colonel of the Highway Patrol at the time, back in 2013, wanted the Highway Patrol to be engaged in the community some way other than handing someone a ticket or delivering a death message. So, I said, "Sure, we'll put together a 5K. It'll be easy." I put it together, created a registration site and thought we’d be good to go. We couldn't get 70 people to sign up.

We did a post-race survey and learned some valuable things from the participants, not so much about what I did wrong but what I needed to do differently. We changed that, and our numbers increased to 350 the next year. So much to the point that the founder of contacted me and said, "If we get you and your wife to Philadelphia, would you share what you're doing in North Carolina with race directors across the nation? Because we like your grassroots efforts." The thing I really appreciated about that experience is the people I met and hearing their stories. One particular company we met was based in Colorado, 3W Racing. I engaged them in conversation and told them I was thinking about starting a race company here in North Carolina. I asked if they would give me some guidance, and they did.

Long story short, in March 2015 we started RunTimeRaces officially as a LLC. Our very first race was a really small event, and our payment was a $250 gift card from Walmart and a couple hundred dollars in cash. Now we're running about 18-20 events, and our biggest thus far is the Krispy Kreme Challenge in Hickory with about 600 participants. By organizing that race for them, we helped them raise $45,000 for Carcinoid Cancer Foundation.

What inspired you to take your passion for running to the level of starting a business and organizing runs for other people?
I was sitting at my kitchen table checking the bills, and I reflected on the fact that we had a daughter in college. A private college. And I thought, people go to Charlotte and they go to Asheville to run. We've had great success with the Trooper Foot Chase 5K, so there's no reason we can't do more here. For years, there’s always been an entrepreneur inside me. I thought, why don't we start a business that is multi-tiered? Race consultation, race production for other entities’ fundraisers, and producing races from the ground up within our community? We wanted our events to be the kind where you're coming to have fun, maybe get healthy in the process, and at the same time give back to charity. We give back from every race. Part of the proceeds always goes to a charity. There's not one race we do that's completely for profit.

Is donating to charity part of your company’s mission?
Well, it’s a requirement. Sometimes we pick the charity, sometimes they pick the charity. But, you know, “Run, live, give.” The give is because everybody needs help along the way. I say this at the beginning of every race. You're here for much more than a 5K or a half marathon. You're connecting with the community. Whether you realize it or not, your funds are giving back to an organization doing much bigger things for all of us.

Tell us about your career as a trooper. What has it been like for you?
Well, first of all, let me say this. I share with people that if you look at my life, if you look me up in a textbook, based on a broken family, being raised by a single parent that worked three jobs, not entering college, going into the military after high school, some statistics would tell you I should wear the handcuffs I carry. I share with people that God had another plan for my life. And I heard it said best by Charlotte Smith, a women's NBA player for the Charlotte Hornets. She said that God gave her basketball as a stage in life, as a foundation to affect people in a positive way. And I share with people that God gave me the Highway Patrol as my foundation in life, because there's no doubt in my mind that through the Patrol, there have been doors and audiences opened that I in all other aspects wouldn't have had access to.

Getting back to the patrol… I was in Burke County as a new trooper, stopping everything that moved. If you could get into it, I got into it. The Highway Patrol said I could come back to Catawba County after two years, and that was a home run for me. I continued working as a trooper. I really didn't have any aspirations of being promoted. I wasn't seeing the bigger picture, I was just happy to be a trooper. I was living in the moment.

Through that process, it was rewarding to be able to speak to young people. I have a passion to see young people succeed. The difficult parts were stopping a car and it's someone who graduated from high school with you. There's no easy way to correct the driving behavior of someone who you went to school with.

In 2007, I had an opportunity to become a polygraph examiner for the Highway Patrol. The Highway Patrol uses polygraph examiners to vet their applicants. Through that process, I've been able to receive a whole lot of training that in turn, I've been able to use for the organization. I would also say my instructor training has helped me give presentations in the community, and I really enjoy that.

The most recent opportunity I've had is helping with the planning of the Patrol’s part in the World Equestrian Games coming to Western North Carolina this September. Highway Patrol Headquarters needed a representative to help with that process, and the person who called me knows that by nature I'm a planner. I'll probably be on site 13 to 14 days, but in the interim, it's a benefit because I'm getting more training.

When you think about the Patrol piece, most people think it's just a person on the side of the road looking to write a ticket. But really, the Patrol is so much more diverse. We have helicopters, K-9, criminal interdiction, a recon unit, things of that nature.

You mentioned that the opportunity to move back to Catawba County was a home run for you. What do you love about living here?
I'm a person who likes to be centrally located. I don't want to have to drive 20 minutes to the grocery store. What I like about Catawba County is that whether you need Doctor Inscoe, a veterinarian who’s been here forever and is an amazing person, or an orthopedist at OrthoCarolina, or Frye Regional Medical Center, or Catawba Valley Medical Center… we have everything you need here. You truly don't have to venture out. I mean, there's certain things you have to leave for. But for the most part, if you need it here, you can get it here. We’re big enough to have everything you need, but we're not so big that you feel like you're on the six o'clock news every night.

When you think about your life here in this community, what makes living better for you? What makes life good for you here?
There’s never been a time when I lost hope that there would always be some way for me to aspire and continue to go forward. I look at Catawba County as moving forward and not backward. Every time I drive by Catawba Valley Community College, they're growing. Lenoir-Rhyne went from Lenoir-Rhyne College to Lenoir-Rhyne University. When I think about living better, I see Catawba County continuing to grow forward. We continue to be innovative. And I hope, as a native of Catawba County, that we will always understand the importance of showcasing what we have here.

I'm curious if there are certain things that were difference makers for you. Because your story, like you said, is a very common story that often times has a more tragic outcome.
I think the best answer to your question is that God placed people and circumstances in my path who served as bumpers to keep me on track. I never really had someone specific, that one constant in my life, guiding me. But I had a village of people within our community that, without me even realizing it, and maybe in some instances without them realizing it, were keeping me on that path.

It was a village of people within the community, and even though they weren't working in concert with one another, they were making little contributions. And those contributions, those deposits, that relational currency they were building with me has paid dividends. Now, I hope I can give back and speak into people’s lives. I think if I've learned anything in my journey, it’s that the people of Catawba County are willing to invest in the people here because they know that in the end it's going to pay dividends. And I believe that with all my heart. I really do.

Interviewed February 22, 2018