I met Tony Banovich at the second race I ever ran on Montana soil. It was October, seven years ago, shortly after I moved to Missoula to run cross country for the Griz.
I got to know Tony the way most people in the running community get to know each other — while catching my breath after a hard run.
Tony attended every home cross country meet I ran in Missoula for five years. He was always near the finish line, ready to offer congratulations or to wonder, jokingly, why my teammates and I hadn’t run faster.
Over the five years I ran around Missoula, Tony was omnipresent, as an organizer and commentator. When the Missoula Mile still took place, Tony was always at the finish, just in sight of the final corner of the course. He rarely had to refer to the participant list to start cheering on runners through their finishing kicks; he knew most of us on sight by our tired strides.
I can recall racing the Mile one year when I ended in a sprint finish stride for stride with a teammate, Tony’s amplified shouts urging us down Higgins Avenue. He was ecstatic about anyone participating in a race, but everybody who spent time around Tony knows competition brought something extra out of him.
Tony was a lifelong runner, starting as a high schooler in Butte. He ran competitively in college and beyond, competing on the track and roads. He ran the Montana Cup cross country meet every year from 1996-2016, representing Billings, Kalispell and Missoula over the years.
While his competitive exploits are impressive enough, his stature as a focal point in the running community is where he excelled.
Tony coached track and cross country at Plains High School, and as the executive director of Run Wild Missoula, he coordinated runs, seminars and races for nearly 2,000 local runners. He was the director of the Missoula Marathon, and his voice welcomed thousands of runners across Higgins Bridge to the finish line.
He considered the accomplishments of anyone in his orbit as exciting as his own. He kept an online blog, “Musings of the Trials of Miles in Big Sky Country,” which tracked Montanans running in college, locals running in the Boston or New York marathons and whoever was running quickly at Turkey Trots, Jingle Bell Jogs and St. Patty’s Day Pub Runs across the state.
Tony was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy in 2010, but he didn’t let that slow him down. He was awaiting a heart transplant in Arizona last week when he died at the age of 58.
The last time I saw Tony, in late September, was almost identical to the first time I saw him: in Missoula, at a cross country meet, announcing runners as they sprinted towards a finish line.
Montana’s running community lost a legend, and we will be logging miles in his memory for years to come.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.