WWU professor has been running Ski to Sea for decades

When Farrokh Safavi sees a runner perhaps more than 50 years younger pass him near the end of the downhill running leg of Ski to Sea, yet hears that runner yell “Great job!” to him, he feels he has sent a message as an educator.

“That means a lot!” he said.

Safavi, a marketing professor in Western Washington University’s College of Business and Economics, began competing in Ski to Sea in his late 40s. Sunday, May 24, will be his 23rd consecutive race and 21st as captain of the college‘s beloved team “Diminishing Returns.”

The team was founded in 1992 by the late professor David Merrifield, whose legacy will be honored by Safavi and another veteran faculty participant, mountain biker Chris Sandvig.

“The other six members are all students, so the team changes every year,” Safavi said.

As far as Safavi knows, he is one of four faculty and staff members who arrived at Western as early as 1969. He began teaching there in the summer of that year, 46 years ago.

Safavi can enjoy the attention he attracts from students, who sometimes look at him in awe when he works out at the campus fitness center late in the evening.

“Education is not just academics,” he said. “I’m trying to send a message to our students that if they really take care of themselves, they can become 70 years old and still be very active in life.”

Safavi, a native of Iran, displays his wry sense of humor when he sends out press releases predicting the greatest of glory for “Diminishing Returns.”

“We do this for fun, but we also try for the best result we can get, to the maximum of our capacity,” he said, knowing full well that the world-renowned race attracts so many standout athletes that his team’s name, indeed, is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Even so, the team’s business and economics teachers and students definitely attend to, well, business. The mixed team also has Kali Klotz-Brooks, trail runner; Joshua Bennet, road biker; Nick Heutink and Reinhard Kurzen, canoers; Zach Cohen, cross-country cycling; and Anne Washington, kayaker. Bennet and Cohen are MBA students.

“I started racing in Ski to Sea because of a sense of adventure in my blood,” said Safavi, who obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Tehran University and his doctorate from the University of Southern California.

Since the team’s makeup changes so frequently, Safavi said this year’s historic lack of snow didn’t bother his spirited bunch.

The professor’s ever-evident sense of humor is reflected in a recent press release.

“Sports Illustrated has forecasted that your beloved Diminishing Returns will finish the race 20 minutes before anyone else … if (fans) choose to bring a camera along, make sure its shutter works to 1,000th of a second. Otherwise, you won’t be able (to capture) the Diminishing Returns team members as they fly by.”

Safavi said he’s not the least bit ready to quit.

“If I can keep my health, I’ll keep running for Diminishing Returns,” he said with a typically hearty laugh.