Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 19 Sep 2004 09:24:32 -0400

Bill and Joan Show

RUNNING COMMENTARY 537

(rerun from September 1999 RC)

Not a lot of planes fly into the Quad City airport on the Mississippi River. When our flight there was canceled, it set back the arrival time in Davenport, Iowa, by too many hours.

I stood in line to board at Chicago O'Hare when news came that the afternoon flight wouldn't go. The next one wouldn't leave until evening, after the Bix race banquet was underway.

In front of me stood Scott Samuelson, Joan's husband. He shouted "Mr. Rodgers!" to a tall, thin man across the lobby. This was Bill's dad, Charles, also headed headed for that city in Iowa.

"Let's rent a car and drive there," said Scott. His family had to be in Davenport by dinnertime, and driving the three hours across Illinois was the only way to get there on time.

They and many others from the Rodgers and Samuelson-Benoit families (16 of Joan's relatives would attend). They needed to reach their hotel in time to see Bill and Joan honored. Many others of us wanted to be there, and we too would rent cars.

Ed Froehlich, director of the Bix Seven race, invited dozens of Bill and Joan's near and distant friends to have dinner with them. This was the race's 25th running, but its bigger event for us was the unveiling at the banquet of a life-sized bronze statue honoring these two runners. It would stand near the Bix finish line.

The convoy of rental cars pulled up to the Blackhawk Hotel just in time for the evening's program. We wouldn't have gone to this much trouble for many other runners. Maybe only these two.

Joan and Bill inspire so much respect that we'll work to be with them. Our efforts amounted to little compared to theirs over the years.

Together they'd worked Bix into their schedules more than 30 times. They'd won about a dozen open and masters titles.

Frank Shorter spoke this night. Craig Masback and others paid their public respects.

And finally Bill and Joan spoke -- she in her quiet, assured way; he in his wide-eyed, gee-whiz way. Both expressed just the right mix of pride and humility. Both betrayed some embarrassment over all this attention.

People usually aren't moving anymore when they're captured in bronze. But as I ran the next morning, Joan breezed past me. I shook her hand on the fly.

Bill was headed out for his run as mine ended. We shouted greetings.

That Saturday Joan won her third straight masters title at Bix (to go with her four overall wins). Bill finished in the same minute as her. She said, "I wanted to show that I wasn't washed up because they bronzed me."

The two of them were honored not just for what they once did, but for what they keep doing. They keep showing up here and at many other races year after year, doing and saying the right things.

They are much more than once-great-and-still-good runners. They're active, accessible ambassadors of the sport.

Both were too classy to say that the statues unveiled at Bix don't look much like them. The bronze faces do even better, showing generic-looking male and female runners. Joan and Bill stand up there representing the best in all of us.

UPDATE. I haven't checked in with Bill Rodgers for awhile, but read that the leg he'd broken within the past year has healed. At age 56 he's as busy as ever as the sport's ambassador-at-large.

Both he and Joan Samuelson, now 47, returned to Bix this summer. Joan again won her age-group.

At the recent Dick Beardsley Marathon Training Camp in Minnesota, I saw Joan for the first time in five years. An injury kept her from running the latest Olympic Marathon Trials, but on a sore hamstring she ran 1:23 in the Beardsley Half.

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