NEFFS - Chances are you've seen him.
Maybe it was in your rearview mirror while driving up Dixon Hill Road. Or, perhaps, it was in downtown Wheeling while taking in the annual Debbie Green 5K.
You might not know his name, but his attire, well, that might ring a bell.
BELLAIRE NATIVE Allan Olexa has been a road racer for more than 25 years and runs races all over the Ohio Valley and the United States.
If you live in the Ohio Valley, especially eastern Belmont County, there's a pretty good shot you've seen a man running along the road wearing a shirt with that emblazoned across the front in large, white, block letters.
It's Allan Olexa's calling card, of sorts.
''People don't know my name, but they'll recognize my shirt,'' said Olexa, 62, a retired Bellaire High School math teacher.
''I've been in Portland, Oregon. One fella asked me where Neffs was and I told him Belmont County. And he said he'd been through Neffs. He said he rode a bicycle cross-country and came through here.''
Olexa, a 1969 graduate of Bellaire High School, has hundreds of stories just like that one stored in a mind filled with nearly 25 years of road racing memories.
Running's been a second career of sorts for Olexa, one that's taken him to the far reaches of the continental United States. From Portland to New York City and from Atlanta to San Francisco, Olexa is synonymous with events large and small.
''I do anything from a mile to a half-marathon,'' he said. ''It's fun to do the big and small events.''
And, sometimes, he's done them all in one day.
Olexa, an Ohio State alum, detailed one day when he competed in a race in Wheeling in the morning, then flew to to Atlanta for a night race there.
''What fun that is ... what an adventure,'' he said smiling. ''I've done that a couple of times.
''They have a race there, 'The Anything is Possible 5K.' That occurs when the clocks fall back in the fall.
''The hook on this race is you finish before you start. The race starts at 1:50 a.m. and, while you're running, the clock is set back. So, you finish at about 1:15 a.m.''
Olexa makes numerous trips to Atlanta each year. The trips include racing, but also allow him to see his daughter, Abby.
''I schedule trips to see my daughters and look for races at the same time,'' he said. ''I'm not going to (Bellaire) Texas specifically to run in a race. I'm going because another daughter, Cara, who lives in Portland, is attending a conference in Houston, which is near there.''
Olexa's third daughter, Bethany, attends Sonoma State, north of San Francisco.
''I've ran out there, too,'' Olexa said. ''I've ran under the Golden Gate Bridge and in Chinatown.''
Pittsburgh, the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Marietta, Ga. are among the other locales Olexa has trekked.
''I'm always looking for a challenge,'' he said.
More than anything, Olexa enjoys the local races and the causes they support. It's not unheard of seeing him competing in two races a day locally.
''I do about 50 or so races a year,'' he said.
It never used to be that way. In fact, at one point, the 6-foot Olexa weighed about 225 pounds.
''The doctor told me I needed to lose a bit of weight,'' he recalled. ''It wasn't too hard. I quit junk. I quit fast food. I cut way back on sweets or anything like that. They were just special treats to have occasionally. And, I started working out every day.''
That regimen included playing basketball on the playground at the old Neffs Elementary. But, eventually, Olexa's friends decided stopped playing forcing him to find a more solitary form of exercise.
That's where running came in.
''I started running Dixon Hill in the summer of 1989,'' Olexa said. ''At first, I'd have to run 100 yards, walk 50 yards ... walk and run.
''Inside of a couple of weeks, I was able to run to the top of the hill. Then, inside of about three weeks, I was able to run from my house in Neffs, at the bottom of the hill, up to 214 and back. I've been doing that every day since.''
1994 to be precise.
''I haven't taken a day off,'' Olexa stated, noting weather, etc. hasn't kept him from his daily routine.
Along the way, he continued to shed the pounds by simply cutting the ''junk'' from his diet and running daily.
Now, he's at about 130 pounds and feeling great.
''It's all 75 percent what you don't eat,'' he said. ''Just cut back on the junk. I don't miss it. I feel great. I'm active. I feel wonderful.''
And he's not stopping any time soon.
''I want to be as healthy and active as long as possible.''
If you know of someone involved with sports at any level in the Ohio Valley whom I could feature, drop me a line at email@example.com