A Lesson in Life (on the Run) - Story by "Elwood"
Fresh out of high school my parents rewarded me with a round-trip flight from my home state of Texas to Boston,
Massachusetts as a graduation present. The unusual thing regarding my itinerary was that no one in my family had ever been to Boston, nor did we have any relatives or acquaintances there.
Aspiring teen distance runner that I was, however, I wanted to visit the city even if it did mean traveling alone. After all, its historical significance aside, ..Boston.. was then a runner's Mecca. More importantly, my idol and the then number one marathoner in the world, Bill Rodgers, called Boston home.
Arriving in Beantown with little but a suitcase filled with running shoes and a map of the famous Boston Marathon route in tow, I hailed a cab and had the driver take me to a hotel in Newton. Newton, of course, is the Boston suburb famous, or rather infamous, for the marathon's hills, most notably fabled Heartbreak Hill.
Once I got settled in – a story in of itself and a feat that ultimately involved my finding and renting a room through a local YMCA (I was 17 and too young to check into
a hotel or so I discovered) – I went for a run over a portion of the course that constitutes history's oldest and most prestigious footrace. Following my run, having researched local bus and subway lines, I found a bus that would take me to 372A Chestnut Hill Avenue in Brighton.
To most this was simply an address. To aspiring marathoners, it was a building standing at exactly the 22.5 mile mark of the Boston Marathon course they and many thousands had run past for decades. To me, however, it was the location of the recently opened Bill Rodgers Running Center, a running specialty store.
My idol, Boston Billy as they call him there, had not only set up shop on the marathon route but more importantly, rumor had it he was more often than not at his store. In short, the man I'd only seen on television news clips, in newspapers and on the cover of countless running magazines had just put an exclamation point behind the word "Mecca" when it came to Boston's identity from a running standpoint.
I'd been standing agog in Bill's store for less than ten minutes when in walked the man himself. In a scene from a dream, he looked in my direction and said in a quiet unassuming voice, "How's it going?"
This was a man who then basically won every road race he ran, including the Boston Marathon which he'd won the month before and would ultimately go on to win four times. This was a man who then held the American Record in the marathon. This was a man they called, "The King of the Roads.
I was speechless.
When I did find my voice however, I returned Bill's greeting, shook his hand and asked if I could perhaps run a time or two with him during the week of my visit.
Of course, Bill Rodgers didn't let me run with him a time or two but instead allowed me to join him for each of his twice daily runs throughout the duration of my visit! That said, despite being only 17, I logged 153 miles that week and – trust me – running with the world's best, I was feeling no pain (see the shot of us running together in my pics)!
During the years following my initial visit, I not only shared many more runs with Bill but his older brother Charlie, who managed – and still does – Bill's store, hired me to work there during semester breaks throughout my college years. And if there wasn't a job opening in the store, Charlie would find work for me somewhere, even if it meant having me do odd jobs around his home.
Impressed by how generous the Rodgers brothers have been to me and others over the years, I've always asked if there was some way I could repay them. Their answer was and always has been the same.
"You do the same thing for someone else one day.", Bill and Charlie will state with finality.
Though it's now been almost 30 years since I met Bill, if there's a lesson I learned from one of the world's greatest runners, it's this:
In life there are finish lines and despite the fact so much emphasis is placed getting to that line first, it's the steps you take before that are the most important. After all, if you slow down on any given day, perhaps something you do – whether it's a kind act, word or gesture – will turn someone else into a winner.
On a personal note:
Bill, Charlie and all of my extended family past and present at Bill Rodgers Running Center, "Thanks for everything and there's none better - anywhere!"...and I'll see ya Wednesday, 7/16...
p.s. Another win for Bill...
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