Hall of Fame – Tim Unger

Bill McGuire, January 2012

I’d like to begin by telling you where I met this year’s Hall of Fame inductee.  It was behind Maclay School, about 10 meters from the finish line at the Breakfast on the Track mile in the year 2000.

Oh, I knew who he was, and that he had been a good high school runner, good enough to be a scoring member on his cross country team, which finished 3rd in the state.  I also knew he had stopped running after high school, and after a long layoff, had started up again, and had joined GWTC.  I was also aware that his old racing form had returned quickly, and that he had set some impressive P.R.’s in the last couple of years, including a 16:12 5k at Greensboro, a 33:58 10k at Rose City, and a 53:48 at the River Run in Jacksonville.  Even more impressively, he was honored as the Gulf Winds Track Club Runner of the Year for 1999.

I knew all this, and had actually chatted with him at various events and such, but I hadn’t really met him yet.  I tried to introduce myself to him during the race that day, as I sprinted by him halfway down the homestretch, but that turned out to be more of a “passing acquaintance”.  I really met this guy when he came back on me a few meters from the finish line, and wound up nipping me for the Master’s title.  To have someone blow by you with 50 meters to go in a mile race is extremely demoralizing.  Very few runners are able to rally in that situation, but our boy did.  I realized then who he really was: not just a good runner, but someone who would not let himself lose!

 That grit and determination I so closely encountered on the track that day was applied by our inductee to the Gulf Winds Grand Prix competition all throughout that year and for many years thereafter. In fact, a strong case could be made that he is the greatest Grand Prix runner in club history.  He has finished in the top 5 overall for 13 straight years, a string which includes 5 Overall Grand Prix titles!  Over 27 years, neither mark has been equaled by any other individual, male or female!

Aside from his amazing Grand Prix record, tonight’s recipient won 15 kilometer National Age Group Championships in 2007 and 2009, both at the Gate River Run.  But to talk only about his individual running accomplishments would be doing our honoree a grave disservice.  As the Gulf Winds Racing Teams Director for the past 20 years, he has spread our club’s name and reputation far and wide.  And his team recruiting ability and tactics are said to rival those of any S.E.C. football coach!

 Over the past two decades, our “Man of the Hour” has organized Gulf Winds teams to compete in such varied and prestigious races as Mobile’s Azalea Trail 10k, Pensacola’s Fiesta of Five Flags, and St. Augustine’s Mantanzas 5k.  There have been numerous others, but the “Gate to Gate” 4 miler at Eglin Air Force Base, and the Gate River Run 15k occupy a special place in his heart.

Gulf Winds has an outstanding 15 year streak of  top 3 Open team finishes at Gate to Gate ( which has entitled us to 15 of the much-coveted “team eagles’)!  Our Team Director has drummed up excellent participation for this event every year, and in 2011 had 25 club members competing on two separate teams.  Gulf Winds will go for its 3rd consecutive Open team championship in May!  Be there!

The Gate River Run has had a long history of club team competitions, and our Team Director has seen to it that Gulf Winds was always well represented.  In 2006, our Men’s Masters won the National 15k Championship at this venue, which is always a favorite among GWTC runners.  Although there was no club team competition in 2011, our undaunted Racing Director still organizes the club to participate in the race as a group.

 Team racing is not just an out-of-town phenomenon, however, and this evening’s inductee has put his stamp on our local events through his perennial team powerhouse, “What You See Is What You Get”, or “WYSIWYG”, as it is known and loved (or hated) by Tallahassee racers.  Whether at Turkey Trot or the Springtime 10k, the intrigue and back-room dealing are heavy for weeks (or months) before the event, with the result being that WYSIWYG almost invariably sits atop the team competitions!

Our Hall of Fame inductee’s energy, intensity, and enthusiasm is nothing if not contagious.  When I was first introduced to “Mrs. Hall of Fame”, she was cheering at a race.  A few events later, she was running in the race herself, and hasn’t stopped since.  In fact, she has become an indispensable member of Gulf Winds, serving on the Board of Directors, as club Secretary, and as a 9 (!) year member of the Grand Prix Committee. In 2010, she won the “Cleveland/Caldwell Advancement of the Sport Award”. Meanwhile, “Baby Hall of Fame” was just that when she began to run the “Diaper Dash” 40 yds. in the Summer Track meets. Six years later, she’s up to 10k, with no end in sight!!

 I’m now WAY into overtime, and even though I can’t see her, I know Jeanne O’Kon is squirming in her chair.  But please indulge me in a final, personal thought.  I keep thinking about our honoree’s Grand Prix record, and how there is really only one other male that even comes close to rivaling it.  That runner, who had 13 straight top 10 Open finishes and three 1st place titles, was also known for his energy, intensity, and enthusiasm.  His name was Tim Simpkins, and he was a close friend of tonight’s recipient.  In fact, our honoree once played the lead role of Tim Simpkins in an FSU student film!  Together, I believe these two provide symmetry to the history of the Grand Prix.  While one dominated the GP up to the turn of the century, the other has dominated since.  And when they met on the top step of the Awards podium in January, 2001, one’s running career…and indeed, his life… were on the wane.  The other’s running career, on the rise.  How perfect that they shared the Grand Prix title that year…the only Open tie in Grand Prix history…and how perfect that they share a first name!

Tim Unger, welcome to the Gulf Winds Hall of Fame!!