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All-American runner now runs health department

May 12, 2007|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY-For years, Earl Stoner, Washington County's new health officer, ran himself into peak shape.

As a Hagerstown Junior College student, he was an All-American runner and a national champion at 1,500 meters in 1988. He was part of an all-star squad that competed in Europe two years later.

In his first marathon, he qualified for the Olympic trials - a feat that running stalwart Mike Spinnler compared to reaching baseball's Major Leagues.

Stoner, 38, who is married and has three children, stopped running competitively in 1996, shortly after the Olympic trials, when his oldest son was born. His son had a malignant tumor and needed a liver transplant, but is doing well now.

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As a husband, father and top health official in the county, Stoner now focuses on everyone else's well-being.

He thought back with wonder about how his life has progressed.

In 1993, he took a short-term job with the health department. Fourteen years later, he's running the department.

"I accepted a temporary six-week position, and they haven't been able to get rid of me since," he joked

Spinnler recalled Stoner latching onto his club of world-class runners when he was about 12 or 13 years old, "a kid with big goals and big inspiration."

Stoner said he realized in middle school that running was his niche.

Robert T. "Bo" Myers remembered Stoner, a 1986 North Hagerstown High School graduate, studying masonry at Washington County Technical High School and not planning on college.

But Myers, HJC's track and cross-country coach at the time, recruited Stoner - "I kept bugging him and bugging him" - who ended up as an All-American runner there.

Stoner got an athletic scholarship from the University of North Florida, where he also was an All-American.

In the fall of 1995, Stoner qualified for the 1996 U.S. Olympic marathon trials on his first try. He finished a marathon in Minnesota in 2 hours, 19 minutes, 48 seconds.

At the Olympic trials in Charlotte, N.C., he finished in about 2 hours, 22 minutes, he recalled. He was 40th; only the top three went on to the Olympics.

In class at HJC, Stoner learned from Myers a more rounded sense of health. Stoner described it as "holistic wellness - mind, body, spirit."

"I run, but there's more to it than that," he remembered thinking.

Stoner earned a bachelor's degree in community health at the University of North Florida. He has a master's in public health from West Virginia University.

In 1993, Stoner came home to Hagerstown and got a job at the health department. Six years later, he became a division director.

Stoner has been a deputy health officer since 2005, helping to run the department when William Christoffel went on paid administrative leave in June 2006. Christoffel retired in October.

Fourteen people applied to be health officer, according to a Washington County press release. County officials recommended Stoner in January.

On Wednesday, the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced that it had approved the county's choice.

Stoner will be paid $73,943, department spokeswoman Karen Black said.

The county's top issues, as Stoner sees them, include teen pregnancy, diabetes, obesity and oral health care.

Stoner said he'll draw on successful running traits - discipline, determination, commitment - as a health officer.

He describes himself as "a calculated risk-taker" who is laid back.

"I put a lot of faith in the management that works around me," Stoner said. "I give a lot of autonomy. I don't stifle creativity."

Spinnler said the county made a good choice - an All-American athlete who married his college sweetheart and became a devoted family man.

"If my son grows up like him, I'll be pleased," he said.

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