Skyway designer to scale bridge during weekend race

- Few Bay Area residents can say they know as much about the Sunshine Skyway Bridge as David Pelham.

Pelham helped designed the structure, after the original bridge collapsed May 9, 1980.

A freighter crashed into the bridge, causing several vehicles to plummet into the water. The collision killed 35 people.

"We had been over it many times," said Pelham. "I was very much surprised, like everybody else."

Pelham, a Tampa resident at the time, had just accepted a job as a senior engineering technician for Figg & Muller, an engineering firm in Tallahassee.

Shortly after moving to take his new job, Pelham was put on a team of engineers tasked with designing a taller and stronger structure to replace the old bridge.

"At the time we were still doing drawings by hand, pencil, pen, ink," said Pelham. "It took lots of hours. We literally worked up until the last day."

The week the Sunshine Skyway Bridge was finally ready to open to the public, Pelham couldn't be there to see it. His wife, Tammy, went into labor, giving birth to his son, Dustin.

"We had a two and a half-year-old daughter at the time, and there was no way I was going to take care of her and deliver a baby," joked Tammy Pelham.

More than 30 years after missing the bridge dedication, Pelham is getting a second chance to cross the bridge on foot.

He took up a new hobby of running several years ago, along with his three children, who are now adults.

"I've probably done between 60 to 70 races," said Pelham.

On Sunday, Pelham will run in the inaugural Skyway 10K alongside his children.

"I'm going to enjoy running with my family," said Pelham.

"I feel like God has a special reward for us when we do the right things in life," said Tammy. "David chose us over that dedication day, and now he's being blessed two-fold, not only by being able to run over that bridge, but having his kids beside him."

Pelham added, "I would not have changed anything."

The race will start at 6:10 a.m. on Sunday.

The northbound lanes will be closed to traffic from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m. The southbound lanes will remain open only to traffic going south.

According to race organizers, 7,000 runners have signed up to participated in the Skyway 10K from 40 states and four countries.

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