Attached is the first of what we hope to be many columns from Gordon Cherr. This one is dedicated to Tim Simpkins.
A View From the Top
(An explanation of the birth of this irregular column will follow next month. Tim Simpkins’ recent passing is a more imperative topic).
I first started running in 1965, in my hometown of Passaic, New Jersey. Passaic had nary a park and a few trees here and there. There was lots of concrete, factories and smokestacks. Many immigrants spoke little or no English. I don’t know why I started. It was at the insistence of my best friend, Keating- the red headed Irish kid, I guess. We were too small for 9th grade football. Besides, my mother wouldn’t let me play football. You know how it is. Running in Passaic was notable for sneaky dog attacks which really kept you on your toes at all times, and the fact that no one else ran in those days (some people did, that is another story for another time however), so drivers in Passaic and surrounding cities felt obligated to try to run you over at every opportunity. They threw stuff at you too, like beer cans and pipe wrenches. No kidding. Hey, it was “Joisy,” what did you expect, joik off??? I survived.
I left Passaic at the earliest opportunity (so would you) and attended Boston University. I ran cross country and track. In contrast to Passaic, Boston was the eastern hub of running in the United States. The Boston Marathon. The New Englands (never heard of that, have you? You have a lot to learn). The Knights of Columbus Indoor track meet at the old Boston Garden (it was so smoky in there you’d think that you were competing inside of a burning building. What were those idiots all thinking?). Running in Boston was like a dream as I look back upon it. On training runs, complete strangers cheered you on for no apparent reason. There was an organized series of road races then, and we are talking 1967-1971 here. Only it was so cold and windy much of the year. We didn’t have polypro undies back then. A well-positioned sock worked just fine.
I came to Tallahassee with my wife, Sharri, in 1971. God, what a hick town! Still is, some would say. There was a small running community then, which really took shape around 1974 or so. Names none of you have ever heard, hard core runners who simply ran all the time, hot or cold, day or night. Heck, a few of you may remember Jeff Galloway’s first Phidipides (I can’t even spell it anymore) store on Jackson Bluff Road. He ran it himself, before he was famous. A running shoe store in Tallahassee! A store for runners! Running in Tallahassee grew by leaps and bounds and continues to do so.
What does this have to do with Tim? Plenty. I moved to Asheville, North Carolina last week, after 30 years in Tallahassee. I took one last run around Lake Overstreet one morning and it was a tearful affair for me. I met a new runner (new to Tallahassee, that is) during that run; I think her name is Joanne Butler. A nice lady. She was from Philadelphia. She marveled at all of the magnificent and safe running trails Tallahassee had to offer and I showed her a new one including the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The tour was a gift from me to her before I moved on.
Runners need to care for and nurture each other. While Joanne marveled at running in Tallahassee, I marvel at all of you Tallahassee runners, more names than I can possibly mention. You each enriched me beyond description. The recent honest and heartfelt outpouring of concern for Tim confirms my greatest hope and trust in all of you, individually and as a group. Your public response to Tim’s losing fight and passing proved my hope and trust to be well placed. In the meantime, you need to continue to care for each other and nurture the running spirit in each of you. I can think of nothing more important.
Thank you, Tallahassee, I miss you already. The rest of you, “watch out for the English out there…”