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Flocking together

Birds of a different feather landed in Lithia Park Saturday — 254 of them to be precise.

That's the number of runners who ran in the 2-mile and 5-mile "Birds of a Feather" races to benefit Ashland runner Erik Skaggs.

Since moving to Ashland two years ago from his native New Mexico, the 27-year-old Skaggs has racked up a string of victories, including three course records in his last three ultramarathon races.

More recently, however, he's racked up something new. Medical bills. Almost $30,000 worth. And no medical insurance to speak of.

In his most recent outing last August, the national championship, 100-kilometer "Where's Waldo" race near Eugene, Skaggs suffered kidney failure following the race and spent a week at Rogue Valley Medical Center.

Saturday's races were organized by Skaggs' friends and admirers to help him through his dark days, and a sunny experience greeted runners for a hilly jaunt through Lithia Park and Ashland neighborhoods.

"We brought in $6,110 in entry fees and another $2,000 in the raffle," said Chuck Whitely, president of the Southern Oregon Runners running club, co-sponsor of the race.

"It was a phenomenal turnout for a first-year race. The entry fee was up to each person. We even had people writing $250 checks," Whitely said.

Rogue Valley Runners, the specialty shoe store in Ashland where Skaggs works, also co-sponsored the race, which was the second local fundraising effort to help Skaggs.

During Skaggs' hospital stay, an anonymous Ashland runner set up an account at Umpqua Bank to accept donations to help defray medical costs. After details of the donation program were posted on the Rogue Valley Runners blog, word spread quickly to other trail and ultra=running blogs.

Within a week, donations from all across the U.S. and Canada arrived, many from people who read about Erik, but had never met him. Runners in Memphis, Tenn., even held their own benefit race.

For three weeks following his hospital stay, Skaggs stayed at home recuperating, off his feet — quite a different test of endurance for a guy who's used to running more than 100 miles each week.

Now he's on the road again. Or the trails, as the case may be.

"It's going slowly, but it finally feels natural again to run. Initially, nothing felt rhythmic," Skaggs said of his first attempts to train.

For now, Skaggs is playing the waiting game. He has yet to learn whether RVMC will forgive any of his costs, and whether U.S.A. Track & Field — of which Skaggs is a member — will cover any of his expenses.

"I think you have to be patient," said Skaggs, both of his financial situation and looking forward to the next phase of his running career. "After all, it's my health."

Daniel Newberry is a runner and freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. Reach him at dnewberry@jeffnet.org.

Ashland runners Erik Skaggs and Jenn Shelton at Saturday's Birds of a Feather Run, held to raise money to help Skaggs pay for medical bills.