Despite the bright blue skies, glaring sun and warm breezes sweeping over the 4.4-mile Gate-to-Gate Race course on Memorial Day, it appeared that this would, indeed, be GWTC’s darkest hour. Tim Unger and Lisa Dapko had been working extremely hard to recruit a top-notch team for this event. Reputations are made and lost at this event when Jones and Company begin blasting their outstanding brand of music for nearly 2000 runners and walkers after their trek from the West Gate of Eglin Air Force Base to the east side. Yes, you can bring those little eagles back for getting more people from west to east first, but that is the secondary goal. For the last few years, GWTC has always answered the bell when the sax started blistering the summer air. If you don’t believe it, check “Scenes from Gate to Gate” in the 1999 archives section of the GWTC web site. But this year the long list of runners that Tim and Lisa had persuaded to run began dwindling in the days leading up to the race.
As the gun went off, it looked like this would be the year the reputation some had worked so hard to build would be lost. The dark clouds started building when last year’s women’s winner and conga line starter extraordinaire, Sarah Docter-Williams, let her vacation conflict with the race. It was a rookie mistake. Last year she single-handedly ignited the party at this race, dragging reluctant dance partners out of their chairs and into a fun-filled conga line. The Caribbean Skipper himself, Karl Hempel, always capable of starting a party himself, was on call and forbidden from traveling or partaking. The bartender, Doc Hochstein and his dancing partner Janice, were back home in comfy Tallahassee. The traveling Clevelands, Rex and Mae, always scooping out the great races in the outback country, were nowhere to be seen. And Mr. Bikini man aka The Groucho Marx racer and Gate-to-Gate race founder, Hoze Droze, was home trying to be respectable. Tim Simpkins just could not find the right costume and refused to get on the bus. Then the final blow, Mr. Moondance himself, Bill McGuire, showed up all decked out in the wrong color uniform. He was aligned with McGuire’s Runners out of Pensacola. Would GWTC ever recover from this humiliating situation? What would happen when the music started playing and the band started pumping out the beat? It looked very bleak – one, two, three and then four songs with no action.
Well, let it be known that there is always a star to step to the table in this club. And just before the storm clouds washed away the club’s reputation forever, a small little ray of light broke through the gloom. As the band wondered whether this group of runners had any soul, a sleek sexy figure started her legs and hips to dancing and headed right to the center of this great void. Grabbing her stunned husband by the hand, Mary Jean Yon shook her finger at the band and yelled, “Turn up the tempo!” The rest as they say is history and GWTC folklore. Mara and her friend Tom were next ready to help keep GWTC’s reputation in tack. Understanding her responsibility as team captain, Lisa Dapko jumped in next, followed by GWIND list members Kathy Shirley and Sharon Smith with their GWTC singlets shaking like mad. Also sporting a GWTC singlet and making the club look great was Springtime, Palace Saloon, Sports Beat, etc. winner Anna Pichrtova. Before you know it, Susie Lyon of McGuire’s (the party expert) was yelling – “Tallahassee wins the party!” The conga line that followed was a new Gate-to-Gate record! Yes, even prodigal son Bill McGuire was dancing away – with GWTC! When the night looked darkest our heroine, MJ, brought GWTC back from the brink and led the 2000 team into GWTC folklore!