A Conversation with Bill McGuire – 2003 Community Champion

By Martha Haynes
Photo by Tom Scott
The flyer for a recent Lecture Series event starring Bill McGuire included the following:

FACT: His grandfather was a well-known road racer in the New York area.
FACT: His dad won the National AAU Indoor 1,000 yd. Championship in 1947.
FACT: His mom took him to track meets in Madison Square Garden when he was still “in utero.”
RESULT: A baby who was “born to run”!

Indeed, Bill McGuire, one of Gulf Winds Track Club’s founding members, was truly born to run. The recipient of this year’s Turkey Trot Community Champ award, as well as GWTC’s Hall of Fame Award (1985) and Runner of the Year Awards (1994 and 1998), Bill is far more than a remarkably good runner. You don’t have to spend more than a few minutes in the vicinity of Bill, to sense his warmth, enthusiasm, and the electric current of raw energy that surges from him. His knowledge is encyclopedic and his recall legendary. Dubbed “Radio Head” by former GWTC president David Yon, McGuire can recite (or better yet sing) the lyrics of every song he’s ever heard, even if only once. A musician since grade school, Bill has sung and played solo and in bands throughout his life; he can always be counted on to provide sound equipment, emcee an event, and, if you’re lucky, sing a few songs. Another nickname Bill has earned over the years is “Mr. Exacto” for his “other job” measuring race courses for USAT&F certification. Bill’s first job, though, is as devoted husband to his wife, Lynn, and dad to Christopher, 14, and Michael, 8. His day job as a teacher at Gretchen Everhart allows him to share some of his boundless energy with the students there, who seem to give him as much as he gives them – and that’s a lot! This doesn’t include the multitude of other things Bill does exceptionally well, including writing. Reading about Bill is good, but talking with him is best. Here’s a sample:

MH: You were “in utero” at Madison Square Garden in 1947 where your father was competing at the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) National Indoor Championships in the 1,000-yard event. What have been the highlights of your running life since then?

BM: Wow, that’s tough. In high school, leading Chaminade to team titles in the 1965 Outdoor CHSAA Sectionals and City Championships (I won the 440 yard and triple jump in the Brooklyn/Long Island Sectionals, and was 1st, triple jump, and 2nd, 440 yards in the “cities”). In college, winning the Metropolitan Intercollegiate 440 yard Hurdles as a Fordham sophomore (1967) was my biggest win to that point, and quite an honor.

Bill, in April 2003, running the 27th race in his “Springtime Streak.”

But the things that have stayed with me most vividly from college are the 1968 Penn Relays, and the NCAA and AAU Outdoor Championships that same season. At Penn, on a Friday afternoon, I ran the fastest 440 split of my life (46.8) anchoring a Fordham “B” mile relay team. It was about two full seconds faster than I’d ever run! Meanwhile, the leadoff 440 runner on our “A” sprint medley team pulled a hamstring handing off in the trials. The team still qualified for the “Silver Baton Championship” Sprint Medley final the next day, and yours truly was named as his replacement. Leading off that relay against several Olympians was the biggest race of my life. My 47.4 leadoff split was roughly equivalent to my 46.8 “running start” split a day earlier, and this time it was in a real “Prime Time” event. Although I was 5th out of 6th handing off, our team wound up setting a school record, and I had run a “dream” race for the second straight day.

The other highlight was making the Nationals. A month after Penn, I ran the 440 Hurdles in the IC4A Championships (the biggest collegiate meet in the Northeast). The winner was Boston University’s David Hemery, who went on to win the 1968 400 Intermediate Hurdles in Mexico City and shatter the Olympic record. I was ecstatic to get 4th behind Hemery, and run 51.9 (a big PR). The time qualified me for the NCAA Champs in Berkeley, California. and the AAU Nationals in Sacramento.

In addition, it was an Olympic year, and if you finished in the top six at Nationals (which I didn’t), you went to the Olympic Trials. It was still a heady time, though, and the two weeks I spent on the West Coast among the country’s greatest track and field athletes made me feel like a real “somebody” in my sport.

MH: What about your post-school running?

BM: I sort of see my running career as two separate ones…track and road racing. While I was in school, I ran exclusively on the track. (Well, there was cross country, but that’s more like a bad dream.) And I never ran a track event longer than the mile in high school, or the half mile in college. Road racing was just starting to catch on after I graduated from Fordham, and since I still had the racing itch, I gravitated to the longer distances. I did, however, still run on the track for awhile after college, and at one point, had the thrill of running against the Kenyan national 2 mile relay team (with the legendary Kipchoge Keino on anchor leg) at the Martin Luther King Games in Philadelphia. As for my “second running career”, my proudest accomplishments include receiving the GWTC’s Hall of Fame Award and Runner of the Year awards, as well as breaking 16:00 in 5k and 34:00 in 10k as a Master’s runner. I really wanted those Master’s times, as I had been in a LONG slump for a good part of my 30’s. I ran 15:58 at the 1988 Reservation Run (an 8 year PR), and 33:50 at Shelter Island (N.Y.) in 1989 (a 10 year PR). My overall racing year in 1998 was also a highlight. I didn’t run any really fast times in ’98, but got involved in more competitive races (won some, lost some) and had more fun doing it than any other time I can remember.

MH: When did you realize that running wasn’t going to be your actual career?

BM: A “running career” was not an option when I was an up-and-coming runner. But I did have the Olympics as a goal. Actually, it was more like a “dream/goal.” I really wasn’t that close to making it. My collegiate career ended on the lowest of notes (and I wasn’t even a bass player yet). I had just finished 8th (and last) in the 1969 IC4A 440 Hurdles final. I had also failed to qualify for the Nationals, which I had done the previous year. I was pretty bummed to think that this is where eight years of hard work had wound up. I also realized that I was never going to achieve my life-long running dreams of making the Olympics and being as good as or better than my dad had been. It was definitely the low point of my running life, before or since.

MH: What do you see in your running future?

BM: At this point, I see myself getting healthy again, and picking up where I left off a year ago. I was running 40+ miles a week, and was feeling GREAT. The fast times weren’t there, but I was winning a lot, and I thought the fast times would come eventually. I’d very much like to be competitive in my age group at the national level, on the track and on the road. This is certainly positive thinking, and maybe just wishful thinking, since this year I’ve only been able to run 10 miles a week, and I’m barely competitive in my age group at the LOCAL level!

MH: You were one of the founding members of GWTC. Over the years in what ways do you think GWTC has changed? How has it stayed the same?

BM: The main change I see is that the club is now much more a part of the community-at-large. The “early” club was pretty insular. It did not believe in financially supporting individuals or charitable organizations. The prevailing philosophy was “If you give to one, you must give to all”. Today’s club is much more socially responsible. There has also been a long evolution towards the support of youth running. At least as far back as Tim Kelly’s presidency, the club has actively sought ways to support and develop the area’s young runners. I think the difference there is that with David Yon’s presidency and the growth of the Chenoweth Fund, the club has really “put its money where its mouth is”. Helping to fund travel to big meets for high schoolers, support of CCCC, scholarships for high school T&F and X-C achievement, shirts for the Owl Run, etc, etc.

One thing that remains the same is the club’s commitment to excellence in staging its events. From the start, there was an emphasis on well-organized races. Accurate, safe courses, correct results, etc. Incidentally, there was a Grand Prix in the early days of the club that was based on quality of performances, not head-to-head competition. It was also age-graded. It was very complicated and time consuming to gather and score results, however, and it was discarded after only a couple of years.

MH: Is it accurate to say that Gulf Winds plays a big role in your life?

BM: The club has figured in my life extensively for the past 30 years. All the great people I’ve met, all the races and places I’ve run. As it does for many others, GWTC functions as my running family. We share the best of times and the worst of times, literally and figuratively.

The club has provided me with a wide range of opportunities. It’s been extremely gratifying to perform musically for a wide variety of club events through the years. Then there’s my role of “Mr. Exacto,” which is probably the only time in my life I’ve been recognized for being precise and exacting! It’s offered me the opportunity to express myself not only through music, but through writing prose. The club’s talented writers have motivated and inspired me (as have our amazing volunteer workers).

MH: What are your favorite races?

BM: I’d have to say McGuire’s 5k, Bushwacker’s 5k, any number of live music/party/fast course events in NW Florida. Great people, great locale, great spirits. For pure race courses, the Reservation Run, Shelter Island 10k, Falmouth, and NYC Marathon (surprise!!) And, of course, my “streak” of all the Springtime Tallahassee races since 1976.

MH: Tell us about the McGuire’s Run.

BM: Ever since I left New York, I had been looking for a place to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in the style to which I’d become accustomed. Then in 1991, my brother-in-law and I heard about this St. Patrick’s Day race at McGuire’s Irish Pub in Pensacola. Well, a race with that name just might be the way to celebrate the holiday, so we went …and what a scene it was! Huge crowds, the wearin’ of the green, live music, and as the t-shirt says, “imbibery, debauchery”…all that, plus a great 5k on a fast race course. An Irish runner’s dream! And, as it turns out, the race has brought me a bit of the Irish luck. I’ve wound up winning the Master’s or Grandmaster’s division in each of the twelve years I’ve run.

MH: How did you meet your wife Lynn?

BM: I met Lynn at Everhart in 1983. I was an Instructional Assistant and she was the Physical Therapist. (She still is!) We worked in the pool together one summer, and things have gone swimmingly ever since! Actually, Lynn contends that I really married her for the central A/C she had in her house (I had been living in a second story sweat box). I just say that I’ve always thought she was cool…in more ways than one!

MH: How does she put up with you?!

BM: I think she just knows that I’m nicer to be around when I’m running regularly…at least that’s one way she can justify it.

MH: You and Lynn have a wonderful family. Would you like to tell us about the boys?

BM: Christopher is in ninth grade at Godby. He’s bright, good looking, and has very easy social manner. He is a real character, a fly-by-the-seat-of -your-pants kind of guy. He loves sports, also, and surprised (and, of course, pleased) me by going out for cross-country at Godby this fall. Running does not come easily to him, and to his credit he hung in for a lot of tough, hot workouts, and several very difficult races. He also loves music…has an electric guitar and amp, and is currently taking lessons. He’s into martial arts, and currently holds a purple belt in Kenpo. He’s also done a bit of rock climbing, and other X-treme outdoor sports. Michael, in the third grade, is a truly beautiful kid. He turns heads and steals hearts everywhere he goes. He loves music (he even writes songs!), dancing, sports, movies, and people in general. He enjoys running but gets shy at organized races.

We have an open adoption with both boys, and we believe that it’s the way to go. I’m sure it’s not feasible in some situations, but when all parties are able to put the children’s best interests first, I think open adoption is the first choice. It helps to de-mystify adoption, and remove the cloak of secrecy which has historically tainted the process. Christopher and Michael both have loving, extended families, including numerous half brothers and sisters. It’s worked very well for them, and for virtually all parties involved.

MH: When did you start working at Gretchen Everhart? Why Gretchen Everhart?

BM: I started at Everhart in the fall of 1982. I was in a good band that was making no money, and I couldn’t find a paying job anywhere. Howard Rubin and I had already become friends through playing music together, and his wife, Nancy, worked at Everhart and knew of an open aide position. I took it… fell in love with the kids, and decided to go back to school in Special Education, so I could make teachers’ salary. Not exactly a king’s ransom, but about triple what I was earning.

The mentally handicapped population is such a great group to work with. The students I work with are such a group of characters…lots of personality. There’s literally never a dull moment at Everhart…unless you’re doing paperwork, which unfortunately, increases each year.

MH: How did the Owl Run get started?

BM: The Owl Run actually grew out of Champ Day, a Leon County Schools middle school track meet and cross-country competition. The concept for Champ Day emerged from a meeting between several GWTC members (Lamons and J.D. Warren and Marilynn Wills among them) and Leon County School officials. Anyway, that started in the later ’80’s. After a year or two of staging the event at FSU, it was decided to give cross country its own date. It first moved to Everhart in 1990. For years, I assisted Pam Jameson with the run. Then I took it over in 2002 when Pam left the P.E. position at Everhart.

MH: Unfortunately an interview can’t convey the energy you exude when you sing or, even when you are not singing, how you rattle off in machine gun-like syllables the lyrics to any song ever written. How did you meet Mimi Hearn and Howard Rubin, with whom you have played for many years as the band Moondance?

BM: I met Howard around 1976 at a party at the Miccosukee Land Co-op, I think. We started playing “living room” music together almost right away. I met Mimi a year or so later when I became a member of a (mostly female) band she was in, “The Rolling Mothers”.

MH: What’s your favorite “music memory”?

BM: One of my favorite music memories is meeting Bonnie Raitt and her band, and opening a show for them in Snowmass, Colorado (Summer, 1975). Another is playing bass for Lon and Lis Williamson in a “Prairie Home Companion” style show hosted by Garrison Keillor. He had come to Ruby Diamond Auditorium to raise money for Habitat for Humanity.

MH: What motivates you to play professionally, both with the band and “unplugged” like you do at Higher Taste?

BM: “Life is a Cabaret, my friend!” Actually, there is something very special about playing music for people. It’s a great way to connect with friends and strangers alike. There’s a Don McLean line, “I knew if I had the chance, I could make those people dance, and maybe they’d be happy for awhile….” If I can do that even once in awhile, that’s motivation enough for me to keep performing!

MH: You are always so generous with your time and equipment to provide sound for track club events. I have this vision of a big studio at Casa McGuire…is that the case?

BM: Nope, I don’t even own a P.A., only a mike and a stand. I use Howard’s P.A. on kind of a long-term loan basis, and I keep it in our garage. I stash my bass amp in the study, my guitar and bass in the music closet, etc. I guess I’m more of a performer than studio musician.

I started playing for the track club in 1977 or ’78, for one of the annual awards banquets. I did several of those, with various bands. Springtime Tallahassee may have been the first race gig I ever did, probably around 1980. Then, of course, the Pine Run, every year since 1982, until this year. I always loved playing on the old flatbed truck that used to sit by the shed at the Pine Run. I’ve also been privileged to play for club members’ birthdays, weddings, and even memorial services.

MH: Since we have to end somewhere, how about with the two lamest interview questions. Who are your heroes? What do you want to be when you grow up?

BM: I don’t have any heroes, per se. But I am very fortunate to be surrounded by people… in my family, in the track club, at work, etc., who provide me with all kinds inspiration.

What do I want to be when I grow up? I don’t ever WANT to grow up…can’t you tell? I run and swim and ride bikes, play guitar and sing in bands. I work in a classroom and still get Christmas and summer vacations! I’m trying my best “to stay… forever young”!