TCR Productions Race Management founder and 1972 Los Alamos High School graduate Tom Rojas and LAPS Foundation Board President Judy Bjarke-McKenzie discuss details for the upcoming Hilltopper Run at the LAPS Foundation office. The run, which will benefit the LAPS Foundation and the high school cross-country team, will be held Aug. 19. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/ladailypost.com
Scene from 2022 Hilltopper Run. Courtesy/LAPS Foundation
By KIRSTEN LASKEY
Los Alamos Daily Post
Tom Rojas has been a runner all his life.
“I have no explanation for this,” he said.
Still, Rojas, a 1972 Los Alamos High School (LAHS) graduate, was a star runner for the Hilltoppers. Rojas has a strong running family lineage; his older brother, Ric, is a 1970 Hilltopper graduate and was a two-time Olympic Trials athlete and a U.S. representative at two Pan American Games, and held the world road running record for 15 kilometers.
Furthermore, Rojas’ niece, Nell Rojas, is an American Marathon Runner for Nike. She is ranked sixth in the U.S. and has finished as the top American at the 2021 and 2022 Boston Marathon, finishing in the top 10 at both races.
“She is a big shot,” Rojas said.
Rojas shared his own highlights in the sport. He pointed out that when competing in the elementary schools’ track meets, he always won the 100-yard dash.
“I was the fastest kid here,” he said.
His inexplicable love for the sport followed Rojas when he left high school. Rojas, a retired administrator with the City of Albuquerque, founded TCR Productions Race Management in 1984. Rojas said his claim to fame is conceiving and organizing the Run for the Zoo in Albuquerque but one of his latest race events is making a significant impact in Los Alamos.
Rojas is bringing the second annual Hilltopper Run Aug. 19. The 5K run and fitness walk begins at 8 a.m. at the Aquatic Center. The proceeds from the event will benefit the Los Alamos Public Schools (LAPS) Foundation and the Los Alamos High School cross-country team.
The first run was held last year, and Rojas said there is a new feature for this year’s race. There will be a 1-mile run specifically for children, age 12 and younger. The Hilltopper Run is designed to have a relaxed vibe. A DJ will provide music and high school cross county athletes will support all runners and walkers throughout the course.
“It’s a celebration,” he said.
Plus, Rojas is bringing state-of-the-art timing technology, “Chronotrack” to the race. He explained that a timing tag “transponder” is attached to the back side of the bib number, which provides real time race results that can be delivered immediately to runners after finishing. As a result, runners do not need to be up front in the race to win. It is not about crossing the finish line first but crossing it in the shortest amount of time, Rojas said.
Rojas said he hopes the 5K invigorates the running events held in Los Alamos.
“Los Alamos has a great history (of running races) so our efforts are to resurrect that history and bring it back to the good old days,” he said.
While the event allows Rojas to indulge in his love of running, it allows him to also support another love: education.
Education is something that is heavily valued in his family; Rojas noted three of his five siblings attended Ivy League schools.
“That’s why education is so important to me,” he said.
Furthermore, Rojas said he revised his will so that a portion of his estate will go toward the LAPS Foundation. It was through this effort that he connected with the LAPS Foundation. During the Covid shutdown, he explained that he was updating his personal will and contacted LAPS Foundation Board President Judy Bjarke-McKenzie for recommendations to leave a portion of his personal estate to education. Bjarke-McKenzie directed him to the foundation.
Rojas met with LAPS Foundation Executive Director Jenny McCumber to discuss the particulars about his donation. During that exchange the Hilltopper Run was conceived. In 2022 the Hilltopper 5K held its inaugural event with the support of Rob and Kathy Hipwood. Plus, the high school cross-country team helped at the run. In October, the Hilltopper Run committee was formed, which consists of Rojas, Bjarke-McKenzie, McCumber, the Hipwoods, Steven and Lindsey Montoya and students Lucy Kelley and Michael Bane.
McCumber said Rojas’ efforts are appreciated.
“I think it’s a great way to raise interest,” she said. Adding that “I love that it just feels very welcoming.”
She added the foundation is moving to a new website platform, which will give LAHS alumni a spotlight. And much like Rojas, many alumni have something to say.
“Everybody has interesting stories about how the community impacted them …,” McCumber said.
Giving back to the community was a big deal for him, Rojas said.
“My interest is just reconnecting with the community. They are very, very supportive. Everybody collaborates.”
It was fitting that many in the community share Rojas’ interest in fitness and wellness.
“I’m all about wellness and fitness,” he said. “There’s a good audience in Los Alamos for fitness.”
To support Rojas’ claim, McCumber pointed out the foundation developed a wellness grant for the schools in support of the school district’s focus on student and staff wellness.
“We’re always changing and improving,” she said.
Bjarke-McKenzie pointed out that the foundation connects with various groups and especially alumni.
The proceeds raised from this year’s run event will go toward funding the beginning of the school year grants, McCumber said. The foundation distributes mini grants to teachers and the grant application window starts Aug. 1, in time for the race.
“The idea is for teachers to not be spending their own money on their classrooms,” she said.
McCumber and Bjarke-McKenzie plan to take part in the upcoming race. Bjarke-McKenzie said she will walk the race and McCumber said her husband will be running in the event.
To register for the Hilltopper Run and donate to the LAPS Foundation and LAHS cross-country team, go online to tcrproductions.com.
For more information about the LAPS Foundation, visit https://lapsfoundation.com/