By Tim Unger
We were skeptical that Eglin Air Force Base would be able to perform the thorough security check that was promised and still start the 2002 Memorial Day Gate to Gate 4.4 Mile run on time. We were concerned that there would be spouses, children and other loved ones stranded by the side of the road if they were denied entry to the base. But like so many other challenges that this nation has faced – recently and historically – all obstacles were overcome by the proud, the strong and the brave. Everyone was safely admitted and the 96th Services Squadron carried out its mission to deploy more than 1100 runners and 271 walkers by bus from the finish line to the start in a timely manner.
After the presentation of colors, a stirring rendition of The Star Spangled Banner and a brief prayer, a retired Air Force General asked us to remember those who had given their lives for our freedom. He quipped that if it were an “auto” race he would tell the participants to “start your engines”. But for this occasion he chose to use the now famous phrase coined by American patriot Todd M. Beamer and sent us off with the words, “Let’s Roll.” So we did for 4.4 miles from the East Gate to the West Gate.
When it was all over, it became clear that many of the fastest runners were from Tallahassee. It is unusual to find runners representing high school, college and a college coach competing against each other, as was the case for four of the top five finishers. They were FSU coach Paul Spangler (overall winner in 22:34/5:08 per mile pace); FSU cross country runners Matt Whaley (2nd overall and 1st in Age Group in 22:40/5:10 per mile) and Tommy Kunish (4th overall and 2nd in Age Group in 23:24/5:19 per mile); and high school sophomore Ryan Deak (5th overall and 1st in Age Group in 23:29/5:21 per mile). GWTC placed second out of nine in the Open team competition. The four scoring runners were Ryan Deak, Tim Unger (25:01 and 1st in Age Group), Tim Bolton (25:22 and 2nd in Age Group) and Lisa Whitworth (30:08 and 1st in Age Group). The team collected a stately eagle trophy for the member’s efforts. GWTC’s team had to compete against the very determined McGuire’s teams. (They entered two teams!) The FSU runners had been recruited for the McGuire’s teams including Paul Spangler, Matt Whaley, Tommy Kunish and Suzanne Shepard (27:46 and 1st in Age Group). This was very reminiscent of Bill “Mr. Exacto” McGuire’s defection in the 2000 race! Maybe next year the Tallahassee talent will run for the RIGHT team – GWTC!
Several other Tallahassee runners received awards. Donna Whitworth captured the female masters award by running 30:40 and Jerry Ongley took home the male grandmasters award with a smoking 27:12 performance. Age group awards were given to James Dexter (4th, 26:47), Bill McGuire (2nd, 27:49) and Bob Keller (1st, 36:36). The rest of the Tallahassee runners were: Joe Dexter (31:36), Augusta Bostick (34:38), Lisa Unger (40:29), Wyatt Bostick (40:30) and Nadine Dexter (44:43). As in years past, the post race party included the band Jones and Co. as well as food and beverages. It seemed that a good time was had by all that attended this very patriotic event.
That is the basic story of the race, but here’s the real scuttlebutt of race details about some of the Tallahassee runners. Winner FSU coach Spangler ran a great race to edge Matt Whaley by a few seconds. The coach had the experience from previous years to confidently take the victory. The race results were extremely slow and it was unfortunate he could not stay to fully enjoy his victory. Spangler has averaged 5:07 a mile for the last THREE years at this race.
Fiesta winner Kunish was this year’s happy loser. Word is the final water stop along the course had a few cans of brew among the cups of water, which he obviously had to stop to chug. He was still able to improve upon his sixth place finish from Friday night’s Kingston mile. He moved up to fourth (first loser-three deep cash event). But he did receive a really neat cup for his brew! He also wheezed the McGuire’s B team to the finish a mere eight seconds behind the GWTC team. Tommy made good on his promise to chug a brew off the back of Master winner Jim Frazier’s eagle at Don Henderson’s world famous Memorial Day party. Jim had a little beer poured through Tommy’s glass Fiesta trophy into his breadbasket a few weeks ago when the two speedsters were separated by just 10 seconds. They tossed each other into the pool at Henderson’s so many times I hope the pictures of the beer chugging paybacks didn’t get wet.
Ryan had a really interesting journey to the men’s 5th overall finishing spot. He ran the first couple of miles just a few yards ahead of a pack consisting of Tim Bolton, several other runners and myself. Once he was done warming up at around 5:25 per mile on the first two miles he looked like an old road runner cartoon and just plain shot up, “beep-beep” and then was out of view. He stunned the runners competing in the last half of the race one after another. Frazier had commented how he had been left out by himself for most of the race and thought he was going to coast into the fifth finishing spot. Not to be though as Ryan and another Valparaiso youngster sped by him on the final stretch as they closed to within five seconds of a quickly fading Kunish. Ryan’s 5:21 per mile final race pace average tells the negative split story. WOW!
The 2002 version of the Tim and Tim show was up next. I have no chance against Bolton in a 5k, he is too quick! Experience and treachery has prevented Bolton from getting me in a 10k so far though. The 4.4 mile distance was an interesting challenge for both of us for sure. We hung together during this race for an extended time and really helped the pack we were in lurch forward. After Ryan dumped us at the 2-mile Bolton led a strong charge into the second half of the race. I had a better fourth mile and ended up 12th to Bolton’s 15th place by a few seconds.
James Dexter was up next. He had stomped Ryan and me at Saturday’s 5k but couldn’t turn the trick again. James did have a really great race to claim an age group award with his 28th overall placement. He looked so good in his GWTC team-racing singlet there were hordes of gorgeous girls asking about him at the post race party. He ended up running around playing Frisbee with Ryan instead of compromising his high morals and messing with the girls. Joe couldn’t believe his son would be so ornery about the gals, but then like father like son, hey Joe?
The man in 39th place was the real story of this race. My personal hero 15k Team National Champion Jerry Ongley was serving up humble pie to the youngsters in the 50-54 age group with his 27:12 performance. Jerry had a MONSTER race and defeated previous Grandmaster champions McGuire, Henderson and Dias to snatch the Grand Master’s eagle (and the cash!). Well actually it was more of a FUMBLE as Jerry was overcome by the sheer weight of the six pound Eagle and laid the egg right there in the grass at the awards podium as he dropped his eagle in the dirt. So I am yelling, “Lisa did you get that photo or what!” GEEZ girl, get with it! Really though, Jerry has been ever so close during his 5 year hunt for the Grandmaster eagle and now he IS THE MAN. His great accomplishment is something most of us can only dream of.
FSU’s Suzanne Shepard was up next as the second overall female. She deserves a bit of compassion since she couldn’t accept the money and had to listen to Kunish whine all the way home about how he “coulda” or “woulda” or “shouda”. I’m sorry it had to be you Suzanne, Tommy was still dripping wet from his last Frazier dunking when she fished him out of Henderson’s pool and into her car. I say we blame it on the coach.
McGuire was up to his old tricks just a few seconds behind Suzanne in 51st place. Yes that’s right. Bill recently had both legs replaced and he is getting his mile pace back down again. The way I see it the bionic legs should have eliminated him from competition years ago. This fresh set of legs is going to cause all of the masters runners more severe headaches than we have been used to. Bill’s third place age group award at Gate to Gate is only the start of his climb past us again.
The saviors of the GWTC team effort were up next. Lisa Whitworth’s fifth place overall finish in the women’s race enabled the GWTC team to finish up strong in its last appearance for 2002. Thanks to the efforts of these two talented GWTC members the GWTC team awards streak has been extended to six years now at Gate to Gate. Lisa managed to run very well at the Mile for Meals 5k and still beat her deep age group by almost a full minute. Donna Whitworth won the Miles for Meals race on Saturday and came back with an incredible effort. She was very close to getting checked into the medical tent after this race as the heat had made her a bit queasy. She showed us all what it takes to be a champion on this day. Donna had to use every ounce of her strength to win the female master’s award by a scant four seconds. These two ladies really impressed me with their intensity over the entire weekend. I would not even attempt what these two accomplished.
Thanks to everyone who made this team effort so enjoyable. This is one of the true classic races in North Florida.