By Bill Hillison
I am honored, truly honored, to be selected by Gulf Winds Track Club as Male Runner of the Year for 2002. Given the abundance of fine runners and extraordinary number of great individuals in the Club it is very special to me to be selected for this award.
My experiences and associations with those in the Club have created many unforgettable memories. Although I risk boring you with what might be judged as trifling narrations, the following memories are special to me.
My mentor and early running partner was Bill Jordan. Those who recall Bill will attest to the fact that he could compete with the best. Bill introduced me to Gulf Winds and I have many, many memories running with Bill. One of the most unique we called the “Great Gayfer’s Christmas Caper.” We were running on John Knox just after dusk during the Christmas season a number of years ago. We both spotted coins simultaneously in the intersection in front of the old Gayfer’s store. As we stopped to pick up the coins, we saw dozens more out in the street shining in streetlights. Giddy with joy, we dodged traffic for more than 15 minutes picking up coins. Where they came from, we do not know but I needed my cap to hold all the coins that we picked up that evening. We ran home happy and excited.
For almost the past ten years I have been running almost daily with Bud Fennema and Matt Minno. They have been an inspiration to me. Although I have many running-related memories, the most outrageous many of you have already heard. For those who have not yet enjoyed my embarrassment, the following is the basic story. It was the morning of my birthday. Unknown to me, Bud and Matt had planted our planned running course with “rare” coins such as a half dollar and dollar. Of course, Bud and Matt made sure that I found the coins. I “took the bait, hook, line, and sinker,” all excited that I had made such a find. Bud, “reeling me in,” suggested that I was so lucky that it must be my birthday, to which I responded enthusiastically, “It is my Birthday!” Only then did I realize that I had been deceived. Even worse, I learned that Sharon, my spouse, had been in on the ploy.
The only 5K that I ever won was the Deer Lake Run in Killearn Lakes. It was the first year that the race was held and there was not a large turnout. I recall crossing the finish line only to hear a young girl running back to the registration volunteers and yelling, “The winner’s back, the winner’s back, and it’s an old man!” I had mixed feelings.
I recall running the Pine Run with Jane Johnson and John Whitworth. It was a torrid pace that Jane and John established. We ran side-by-side for almost 10 miles. I was the first to break. Jane and John went on to run a fantastic race. I limped in far behind but extremely happy to be finished. I recall the feelings every subsequent Pine Run.
I know that John Whitworth recalls the Tallahassee Marathon that we ran side-by-side for 25 miles. Again, I was the one to break. I believe that was one of the best marathons for both of us and I will always remember the challenge, pain, and joy of the day.
Many Greensboro Firecracker 5K runs that go from point-to-point have been memorable. In the early races there may have been 20 runners at most. Runners either were taken to the starting line in private cars or they drove themselves and parked along the roadway. One such race, we raced hard to the finish and then more slowly retraced the course to get our cars. It was one of the first times I had met Paul Hoover and we had a much more pleasant run back to the cars than during the race. From the beginning, the folks at Greensboro have held innovative races. One unique feature of the first race was that times were called at each kilometer rather than at mile marks.
One of the first races I recall running with Joe Dexter was many years ago at the bygone Marine Corp 10K. I could see Joe ahead about a mile from the finish just beginning “Integrity Hill”. My intent was to catch him at the top the hill and pull away on the downhill side. My intent, however, did not map to performance and he went on to beat me soundly.
I recall running the St. Marks 30K with Doug Gorton. Doug was relatively new to Tallahassee and I did not know him. Although we ran the same pace for the first nine miles, I drafted on him as we ran into the wind (gale?). I am sure he wondered what was going on. Although I was rested when we turned around to have the wind at our backs, Doug still went on to beat me. Forgive me Doug.
One other cool and blustery day at the St. Marks 30K, I remember following Karl Hempel mile after mile keeping him in sight to within two miles of the finish. I was only about 200 yards behind and seemed to be closing. I am not sure what made him look back, but he saw me and proceeded to pull away to the finish. Over the years, I have learned to be content to just follow Karl to the finish of every race and save my effort.
A most memorable run with Gary Kenney was at a fairly recent Tally Half Marathon. I caught him totally by surprise in the last several feet of the race. I literally nipped him at the finish by no more than a foot. No doubt, if he knew I was just behind him, he could have easily beaten me. Ironically, I ended up taking the Masters with Gary second. Gary has never let me forget that day. Gary has proven to be a great runner and truly a fine person to know.
Dana Stetson and I have had a number of shared running experiences. I recall one 8K race on Miller Landing Road where we ran together for the first 4K. Those that ran the race can recall that the turn around was near the bottom a fairly steep hill. We both raced down the hill only to turn and begin back up with what felt like grinding slow motion. I do not think it would be appropriate to share the comments that we had to one another as we made it to the top of the hill.
I hope that the following list will bring some of reflections and similar memories to the noted runners as they do to me. Running with (or behind): Carrie Weyant at Boston, Bill McGuire at Under the Oaks, Jerry Ongley at Monticello Melon Run, John Kalin at Tom Brown Park 5 Miler, Mike Simms at the Turkey Trot, Tim Unger at the Ultra, Jay Silvanima at the Pittsburgh Marathon, Bill Perry and the guys at New Orleans Mardi Gras Marathon.
Cheerleaders and supporters through the years also create fond memories. For example, both David and Mary Jean Yon have been some of the best. As long as I can remember being in the Club, they have been there in good times as well as during my injuries to offer help and encouragement. My other real cheerleaders have included Charlie Yates, Bonnie Wright, Bill Lott, Chris Teaf, Sarah Docter-Williams, David and Judy Waters, John Dunn, Myrna Hoover and of course, Gary and Peg Griffin. And, speaking of cheerleaders and support persons, I will never forget Craig Hasty.
If you have been in the Club a long time you may recall the (no longer run) Whigham Rattlesnake Roundup 5K one very cold windy February morning when the snow was blowing across the road. Or, can you remember the Miccosukee Pie Run? They had unusual starts, most incorporating the use of a shotgun. Can you recall the Swine Time run in Georgia one year that literally ended running through a mud wallow? These are the times of our lives!
New memories are being created almost daily. Running with Bud Fennema, Matt Minno, Tom Ratliff, David Cox, Keith Collins and others from Tully Gym several times a week has been an enjoyment. We have literally run from one end of town to the other. Additionally, early Sunday morning runs from home and meeting up with Fred and Margarete Deckert most mornings in the Killearn area has been an enjoyable experience.
There is a problem with writing about memories. There are too many to recount. I realize that I have failed to recognize many, many people who have interacted with my fond memories. I may have to have a second installment!