A race with heart


By Fred Deckert 


Since the Tallahassee Ultradistance Festival, a 50K and a 50 mile event at Wakulla Springs which Margarete and I direct, occurs this Saturday, memories of past events flooded my mind.

High on the memory parade is the morning that Igor Egan, who drove down from Nova Scotia, jumped out of his car and ran up to us with a handful of crumpled, uncounted bills and asked if he could still enter the 50 mile. It was just minutes before the start, but who could refuse this large, desperate looking man? Igor promptly joined the runners but when he began, we thought we had perhaps made a serious mistake, he ran with a decided list to port which suggested one 2 mile lap might be all he could manage. Oddly enough he finished the race and started to actually look good at the end.

Then there’s Nancy Drach, a charming brand new Master who hoped to break 7 hours for the 50 mile. She set a course record at 6:38 and you couldn’t wipe the smile off her face with a bucket full of lemon juice.

Our own Gary Griffin decided to bail out of the 50 mile race at the 50K point since he felt so bad (he looked even worse!). But, when he reached that point he wouldn’t quit till he did the full 50 miles.

Bill Hillison at age 55 is our most prolific 50K winner and it’s always a treat to watch his clocklike pace wear down the early leaders and take the Masters award, and occasionally the overall win. One year, Bill’s protégé, Matt Minno followed “the stud” until several laps from the end when he began walking. Don’t let anyone tell you that a totally depleted runner can’t be rejuvenated. When we told Matt he was still the leading master, (Bill was overall leader), he was reborn and ran the last lap to hang on for the win.

Of course we have comic relief every year when Joe Dexter does his costume routine and runs laps in different outfits, usually poking fun at topical social or political figures. We worried that his bin Laden outfit last year might get him shot by overwrought local patriots.

No one can forget Gordy Hawkins, our smiling 50 miler who has appeared at this race 18 times and won 5 of them. Gordy’s faithfulness runs a strong contest to his everlasting good humor in spite of some very difficult races. He is a shoo-in for most popular runner with the volunteers.

Pat Judd, Gordy’s closest competitor with 16 appearances and tied with Gordy with 11 in a row, invariably comes equipped with a first class support team, his mother and father. This pair of senior citizens bring heartwarming dedication to a very long and sometimes difficult day.

Don McNelly can’t be ignored, at age 82 he’s appeared in 14 events. Don was a manager for Ed Ball, previous owner of the Park.

Dr. John Dunn’s massage ministrations have been lifesavers for multitudes of competitors.

I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that this is not only the longest race on the GWTC calendar but the one with the most “heart.”