Aptos’s Gotcher Attempts to Join Select Few WTW Local Winners
by Jon Gugala
SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — It seems like Brett Gotcher has always been the top local finisher at the Wharf to Wharf Race, even when he technically wasn’t.
Like when the Watsonville native, graduated after an All-American collegiate career at Stanford University, moved to Flagstaff, Ariz., to run professionally. Gotcher returned for every fourth Sunday in July.
Though Gotcher wasn’t technically a local, he still was.
Because even though the country knew him as the fourth-fastest American ever to debut at the marathon distance and an adidas-sponsored athlete who raced across the world, Santa Cruz still recognized him as the Aptos High School Mariner who was a two-time Central Coast Section champion in cross country and who ran the fifth-fastest high school two-mile time in the nation as a senior.
The only question: Would this be the year that Gotcher, the top local of his generation, would win?
“When I ran it two years ago I thought I was ready to go,” the 28-year-old says. “I had a nice, uninterrupted block of training going into it.
“[But] it’s always hard to tell where you’re at [during] this part of summer.”
Gotcher sizzled in 27 minutes, 32 seconds, his fastest time ever on the course.
He was fourth behind a Kenyan sweep of the first three places.
It’s been 29 years since a Santa Cruz County man has won the Wharf to Wharf Race, the last being Armando Siqueiros of Watsonville.
In 1984, Siqueiros, then 25, was a UC Irvine med student on summer break, and had spent an unsuccessful last few months chasing after an entry into the USA Outdoor Track Championships. Racing Wharf to Wharf was a last-minute decision. He picked up his bib the day before, and then raced without it after accidentally locking it inside his brother’s car on race morning.
But Siqueiros had been running the course every Sunday for the three years preceding, and his familiarity with it, he says, made the difference.
“You know exactly where the hills are, you know when you can surge, when you can recover. In a close race, knowing the course is huge,” he says.
Dan Gruber, of Aptos, was 27 when he won the race in 1982.
“It was the only [race] in the tri-county area that I hadn’t won,” he says, “and it was important to defend the turf.”
For the win, Gruber had to beat a former American record-holder and Olympians from the U.S. and Canada. The race was—and is—one of the deepest elite fields in the state.
Besides Gruber and Siqueiros, only Mark McConnell won Wharf to Wharf as a local (1974).
Officially, Gotcher has been the top local finisher eight times—an accomplishment in its own right—and competed in his estimation 12 times. He’s finished as high as third, in 2003, and has matured into a perennial top-five finisher. He knows the course as well as anyone, and after moving back to Aptos in the fall of 2012, again has his local turf to defend.
“[Wharf to Wharf] is really important. It’s a huge event locally, and the community has always had my back in this race,” he says. “It’s really cool knowing that you have the hometown crowd cheering for you.”
As part of that community, this year Gotcher is also giving back, acting as the honorary captain of Team CASA, a fundraising group for the local nonprofit that provides youth mentoring services.
But after the shotgun start on Sunday, Gotcher’s thoughts will be singly on a Wharf to Wharf win that has so far eluded him.
“You look back and you think, wow, it really was a big deal,” Siqueiros laughs. “It was bigger than I thought it was.”