MISSOULA — Missoula Marathon race director and beloved community member Tony Banovich passed away on Tuesday evening, causing an outpouring of support and gratitude from the Montana running community.
Over the past weekend, Banovich sent a message to Run Wild Missoula members providing an update on his recent health issues after being diagnosed with viral Cardiomyopathy in 2010.
Banovich said his health began declining in February to the point where he was showing symptoms for the first time in nine-plus years.
After a recommendation from his local doctor, he arrived at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, AZ last week for a number of tests and procedures before being told he needed a heart transplant.
However, on Tuesday night Banovich passed away in his sleep, leaving behind a hole in the running community that will be hard to fill.
“He’s just a great friend to so many people," said former Missoula Marathon race director and Hellgate XC head coach, Anders Brooker. "Genuinely, if he called you a friend he would do anything for you. I have so many examples of times where he would go above and beyond to help me out or help us out with the events or just as a friend and being there for you. He was just such a great friend.”
Banovich grew up in Butte before living in Billings for 25 years. He then moved back to his wife Erin's hometown of Plains where he served as the high school cross country coach.
Eventually, Banovich was named the executive director of Run Wild Missoula in 2015, which also made him the race director for the Missoula Marathon.
For the past five years, Banovich has been the Missoula Marathon race director, but he was so much more than that in the eyes of so many people in Western Montana and beyond.
“There was nobody who knew more about running in Montana and who had spent time in the Billings running community, and in the Plains running community and in the Missoula running community," said Anders Brooker. "He was involved in everything.”
Anders Brooker worked with Banovich through Run Wild Missoula, the Missoula Marathon, and on the high school circuit as well.
But Brooker met Banovich long before, at a collegiate race in Bozeman when he was running for the University of Montana.
Banovich was there, still in shape, and ran in the open race against Brooker. From there, the two stayed in touch and slowly formed a friendship.
When Tony and Erin moved back to Plains, he began announcing the Missoula Marathon, while Brooker was the race director. That's when the two became close.
"He would come stay at my house the night before the marathon and he would come into Missoula quite a bit and just help out with local events," said Brooker. "And then he was also the Plains High School cross country coach. My dad was actually the coach before him, then he took over once he retired, so we saw each other a lot more."
Whether it was high school coaching in Plains or being the man behind the success at the marathon, Banovich always had a positive impact on someone or something.
One of those many runners he had an impact on is a familiar name in Makena Morely.
“He’s been such a big part of my life in the running world and someone I’ve really looked up to, kind of in all aspects just since I met him when I was younger," said Morely. "I heard about it yesterday (Wednesday) and I was pretty shocked. I think Montana running will miss him a lot, there’s going to be a big hole that I don’t know if very many people can fill that.”
While Morely has pure talent and will go down as one of the greatest Montana runners, she credits a lot of her success to Tony Banovich.
"We had many conversations in high school and post-high school where he helped me put bad and good races into a much larger perspective," said Morely. "He really helped me understand what it meant and what it looked like to truly love the sport and he taught me not to take it for granted, to love every step. He always believed in me, and is one of the large reasons why I am still competing and running today."