Raven was a South Beach running legend. Laura Lee Huttenbach was new to Miami, looking to make her new residence a home.
Huttenbach, a Sandy Springs native and former Georgia Female Athlete of the Year, soon caught on to Raven’s daily 8-mile runs and was curious to find out more. Now she has written a book to tell his story and is returning to Atlanta this month to read from it.
“I was a runner and I would pass this guy on the beach, who had a super hairy chest, and was sort of hunched over,” Huttenbach said of her first impressions of Robert “Raven” Kraft.
Raven is sometimes called the “Forrest Gump of Miami Beach” after the movie character who at one point led groups of joggers on long-distance runs.
“He was always running with a diverse group of people — in age, looks, where they came from. It just draws your attention to why these people are here,” Huttenbach said.
One day, he stopped right in front of her beach towel, and they had their first interaction. She asked if he was Raven. He said he was and invited her to run with him.
Each of the 2,600 people who have come from around the world to run with Raven receive a nickname that he will remember after they complete the run. Huttenbach received the nickname “White Lightning.” It resulted from a random beach catcall, with a man saying, “Good afternoon, White Lightning.” A friend suggested the nickname after their first run with Raven, and the name stuck.
Somewhere along the 1,000-plus miles she ran with Raven, Huttenbach saw value in Raven’s determination to commit to his runs and the following he created and decided to his story should be shared.
So she wrote “Running with Raven: The Amazing Story of One Man, His Passion, and the Community He Inspired.”
In 1975, Raven had been in a low point in his life after he attempted a songwriting career in Nashville. He had made a New Year’s resolution to run 8 miles each day, to give him a routine.
“Through running, he found his purpose and identity. And when he got better, he invited others to be part of his healing,” Huttenbach said. “He took something not extraordinary, and made it something extraordinary.”
Every afternoon at 5:30 p.m., he starts his path at the Fifth Street lifeguard station. Hurricanes, chronic pain and illness would not stop Raven from breaking his streak.
“There are fewer and fewer opportunities to engage with people you don’t know in person,” Huttenbach said. “He has shown up every single day for over 42 years, run over 124,000 miles and created this community. Many stories about him were focused on this eccentric obsession with running every day… but what I saw was the ability to make connections and build a community.”
Huttenbach said she runs to clear her mind, but notices a certain intimacy when making running a social activity, either with Raven, or in regional races.
“You’re sweating, running hard and breathing hard, you’re in it together with someone and trying to accomplish a goal. When you accomplish a goal and have an objective with someone, it creates this bond.”
Huttenbach’s childhood revolved around a strong sports community. Being the youngest of four, Huttenbach remembered trying to keep up with her active siblings and kicking a soccer ball around.
“My mom believed it was important to develop confidence and leadership skills, and to participate in sports,” she said. “Specifically for a woman, she thought it was a great skill to extend to other parts of your life as well.”
Huttenbach was a four-sport athlete at Riverwood International Charter School. She played volleyball, basketball and soccer and ran cross-country. Her senior year, she ran in the regional cross-country meet and played in the volleyball championships the same day.
More than 15 years later, Huttenbach’s accomplishments at her high school continue to be remembered. She was inducted into Riverwood’s first Athletic Hall of Fame in 2013. That honor has been bestowed on about 18 athletes in the school’s history, the school’s website says.
‘Running with Raven’ reading
Laura Lee Huttenbach will read from “Running with Raven” in conversation with Rickey Bevington of Georgia Public Broadcasting on Thursday, June 29, 7 p.m., at A Cappella Books, 208 Haralson Ave. N.E., Atlanta. For more information, see ACappellaBooks.com.