Chase Pray (No. 47, in the middle of the pack) runs up Court Street in Auburn during a road race in the 1980s. Submitted photo

Running is just exercise for some. Others enjoy the thrill of competition or use it as a vehicle for a scholarship or prize money. Most agree it helps relieve stress and makes them feel better.

But there is a certain segment of the population for whom running is a way of life that transcends everything. It’s part of their DNA.

One such person was a lifelong Lewiston-area resident and unassuming man named Chase Pray, who encompassed what it meant to be devoted, dedicated and passionate about not only running himself, but also about sharing his love for and knowledge of the sport with others.

Chase died Sunday at 76 years old, a victim of Alzheimer’s disease that over the past few years slowly robbed him of the ability to run around the town as he did for decades and share his passion with others who were just starting out.

He has been remembered fondly and the outpouring memories on social media spoke of how this quiet, unassuming man was the inspiration that for some led to a lifetime love of running. Others said it was his dedication and work ethic that inspired them to excel in other avenues of life.

Anyone who knew Chase could pick him out of a crowd of runners in a race or from way down the road on any given day as he crisscrossed the streets around Lewiston-Auburn for decades. It wasn’t an efficient gait, or pretty, or technically sound, but it got the job done. For Chase, it wasn’t as much about winning the race as it was to just finish and do better each time out.

As he got older, his stride shortened considerably and became more like a hybrid shuffle than anything else, but he always finished the workout or race with a smile and his signature nervous laugh.

Chase Pray at his birthday party last year at Clover Health Care in Auburn with his sons Nelson, left and Keith, right. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

“Show up every day, work hard and do the best you can.” It was a simple formula that he professed and became an inspiration and role model for many. Every day he would run, no matter what. He often ran to and from Bates College, where he worked in the dining facilities for 45 years.

“I remember he ran to Bates all the way from home in Greene, where he lived, back in the Ice Storm of ’98. He was dedicated to whatever he signed up for, and went the extra mile when it came to running” his son Keith said.

“The man was a fixture on the Central Maine road race scene. I can’t remember a local race he wasn’t involved with in some way,” says longtime Lewiston High School cross country and track coach Kim Wettlaufer.

While Chase was never officially a coach, he was always there helping mentor many young athletes and making sure they had snacks, sneakers and a ride to and from practices and meets.

“His contribution was legendary,” Wettlaufer said.

Coach Chase, as everyone always called him, afforded many young athletes a chance to compete where they might not have, and Chase recognized talent and worked with those athletes who had a future in running. However, he always recognized the potential for success in life that these lessons often taught young and vulnerable youth in the inner city who just needed some confidence and hope of making something of themselves.

It wasn’t always about the potential to be a champion athlete, although he mentored a few of them. It was all about showing young athletes that dedication, hard work and consistency were a recipe for success in whatever challenge or obstacle they encountered. Many just needed to be shown the way and given the opportunity.

Chase Pray, right, with Isaiah Harris after the 2015 Maine State Outdoor Track and Field Championships that Harris led his team to victory. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Perhaps his greatest success story was that of a young family he adopted when they fell on hard times by welcoming them into his small home. He provided the two boys and their sister a safe place to live, and, unwittingly, helped mold a champion, Isaiah Harris.

Harris, one of the three kids he took into his home, was the key to Lewiston High School’s state championship in 2015.

“Not only was Chase the one who got me into running, but he would also take me to practice, got my shoes to race and practice in, and made sure I had something to eat. Back then, we would see him go out and run EVERY single day, and then come home and do core work. I thought he was a mad man for that, but now I see myself doing the exact same thing every day. There is no chance I’d be doing what I do now without the help of him over the years.”

Harris earned a full scholarship to Penn State University, where he won multiple conference championships and in 2018 was the 800-meter NCAA Division I outdoor champion. He has since graduated and is running professionally for Nike and has competed on the world stage for the past three years. He will be competing for a spot on the Olympic team this summer.

While Chase has finished his race here on earth, his legacy lives on in everyone he mentored and inspired by his humble attitude, dedicated work ethic, core values and leading by example.

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