Bill Rodgers

(courtesy of google images)
Chad W. Lutz
I was introduced as “Post-Fontaine” and that was that; a moniker given to me by my local running group.

“I never met Prefontaine,” a wild-eyed and enthusiastic four-time Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon champion Bill Rodgers said to me as we posed for pictures. “But if this group believes you run like the man, then it must be true.”

It was hard for me to swallow such a compliment from such a largely revered person as Bill Rodgers. Before I was even a twinkle in my pappy’s eye, Bill was on top of the running world, placing in the top 15 in 23 consecutive events between 1976 and 1982, including a second-place finish at the 1976 Olympic trials. Add on a comparison to the great Steve Prefontaine and you have what I’m left with now: numb tongue and manic mindset.

We talked for a moment about my two Bostons and his four Boston wins. The sun shone bright in the early Akron sky, mirroring the warm sentiments and feelings from everyone in attendance. When asked what he considered his best run, he said: “Probably the 75’ or 79’ Boston Marathons.” He also mentioned a cross country race in his youth where everything just seemed, “to click,” although he did go on to say he hasn’t, “had a race like that in 20 years,” to which everyone enjoyed a good laugh.

Our charge for the morning was a nice, little, leisurely half-hour run out and back on the Towpath in Downtown Akron. One and a half out and one and a half back. There were about fifteen of us in attendance; all regular runners from different running groups in the area. Some of us had competed in the previous week’s Boston Marathon, which was a hot topic of discussion, especially considering the guest of honor. Bill was in town on a PR tour of sorts in cooperation with the Akron Marathon. Rodgers is slated to serve as the keynote guest speaker at this year’s events coming up in September. He posed the question, “Which is harder: the Akron [course] or Boston Marathon?” since most of us had run both. “Akron,” was pretty much the unanimous consensus.

What surprised me the most, although from what I’ve heard of the man it didn’t overly surprise me was the level of humility and grace Bill possessed. From the very first moment he addressed the group until we all parted ways and said our goodbyes, Rodgers sported a friendly and almost boyish charm. He encouraged everyone to continue running and pursuing their passions, whatever they may be and stressed running with a group. That’s what he wrote to me in my Abbey Road notebook:


You’re aiming high running with your group. Never let up.

Bill Rodgers 2012”

About two years ago, had you said the name Bill Rodgers it would have been as commonplace as table or chair. Up until our inaugural meet up on a brisk Akron April morning, he never knew my name. Sometimes it’s rather amazing if you stop and really think about it; the path life takes us down. I’m reminded of Forest Gump for some reason: “You never know what you’re going to get.” Indeed, Mr. Gump. But if you take the advice of a certain running legend no matter what life’s occupation you might pursue, you may find the one thing I think we all look for: happiness.

(Lutz 2012)