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Blog #4 from the RRCA Convention.

Lakeland, Florida
April 25, 2010 - Day #4
The 2010 RRCA Convention is history.  Day #4 of the 2010 RRCA Convention, our last day together, was a more relaxing day that began with an optional trail run at the Circle B Bar Preserve just outside Lakeland.  By the time the trail runners had left the hotel for the nature preserve, many conventioneers were already headed back home, having caught early shuttles to the Tampa airport.

Bill Rodgers, George Rehmet, and I were lucky enough to catch a ride to the preserve with Convention Director Dawn Decaminada.  While driving there, we spotted an armadillo crossing the road, and I asked if armadillo meat is edible.  Dawn replied, “For Floridians, if you can fry it, you can eat it.  Yes, people eat armadillo.”

Upon our arrival at the Circle B Bar Preserve, we were greeted by Bryan Graydon, President of the Lakeland Runners Club, and fellow Lakeland Runners Club runners.  He gave us a preview of our trail run and admonished us not to step on any moving logs because they were most likely alligators.  He did not have to convince us to follow his warning.  As they say, “A word to the wise is sufficient.”

The trail run lived up to its billing.  Runners were treated to a wide display of Florida vegetation and wildlife, but luckily we did come upon any alligators.  I made sure to avoid stepping on any logs, moving or not moving.  We did come upon a pair of adult cranes and their baby.  They walked by us with curiosity but without fear.  Someone commented that their physiques resemble the physiques of Kenyan runners because of the cranes’ long, pipecleaner-like legs and their compact torsoes.

Following our run, we enjoyed some refreshing water provided by the Lakeland Runners Club, and everyone, including yours truly, took final pictures with Bill Rodgers.  Bill has graciously posed for thousands of pictures during the weekend.  Everyone wants his or her Kodak moment with this great ambassador of our sport.  He has an endearing penchant for talking while posing for a picture, and so in many pictures he appears to be engaged in conversation with the photographer or the group in the picture.

During the drive back to our host hotel, we saw a dead armadillo in the middle of the road near the point of our armadillo sighting on the outbound trip.  I wondered whether the armadillo we had seen before had made its last road crossing.  I guess we’ll never know.  Hopefully the dead armadillo’s death was swift and painless.

Upon returning to our host hotel, I saw many conventioneers gathered in the lobby, their suitcases and their RRCA convention memories in hand, saying their good-byes until next year’s convention in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  I told Bill Rodgers to shower, pack his bags, and meet me in the hotel lobby before 1:00 P.M. so that we could ride the shuttle together to the Tampa airport.  As I was leaving my room to go down to the lobby, I received a call from Dawn Decaminada to tell me that Bill was returning to Boston from the Orlando airport, not the Tampa airport, and that he was not to take the Tampa airport shuttle.  Always on the ball, she arranged for him to take an airport limousine to the Orlando airport, and I was saved from what would have been an embarrassing mistake.

I met Bill in the lobby around 12:30 and informed him of this change in plans.  For some reason, the lobby’s airconditioning was not working, and so we decided to wait in the Lakeland Center’s vestibule, which was much cooler.  There were no chairs available, and so we sat on the floor near the door to watch for my shuttle and his limo.  For the next thirty minutes we talked—just Bill Rodgers and myself—about running and life and everything under the sun.  I gave Bill a broadcaster’s card entitled “Marathon” that I had recently purchased on ebay.  The card showed him winning the New York Marathon.  It seemed fitting that on this card, the name of Bill Rodgers was made synonymous with the word “marathon.”

Bill recounted for me one of his experiences at the New York Marathon.  During one New York Marathon weekend, Bill was invited to make a guest appearance at the preeminent American jewelry store, Tiffany & Company, in downtown Manhatten.  Bill had reservations about going because the store was a jewelry store, not a running store.  After all, why would a famous jewelry store need a celebrity runner for business?  After some deliberation, he decided to go.  His effort was rewarded.  Upon his arrival, he was presented with a Tiffany watch.  Bill did not think much of the watch at the time, but when he later inspected it, he discovered that it was made from real gold and worth a lot more than the Chairman Mao watch I had purchased from a street vendor at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.  In all fairness, I must say that my Chairman Mao watch has a special feature that Bill’s Tiffany watch does not.  On my watch, Chairman Mao’s arm moves in a waving motion every second.  Perhaps Tiffany & Company will consider starting a Chairman Mao line of watches!

The highlight of Bill’s Tiffany & Company appearance was a charity auction of an autographed pair of his running shoes.  The shoes went for $10,000 to one lucky bidder.  Of course, this revelation only elevated in my mind the value of the autographed Meb Keflezighi training shoes I had won at the RRCA live auction on Saturday night (see Blog #3).  After all, Meb’s training shoes, with inflation, could not be any less valuable than Bill’s training shoes.  If my wife Ellen only realized the true value of my anniversary gift to her!  Perhaps I should package Meb’s shoes in one of those distinctive, light blue Tiffany & Company boxes!

The shuttle arrived, and I bade Bill farewell.  I always say that you know you have had a good time when you feel a tinge of sadness as you say good-bye to someone.  I was sad when I said good-bye to Bill.  He is truly a kind and caring person and an exemplary human being.  He was a wonderful choice for the convention’s keynote speaker.  We hugged and pledged to stay in touch.  Our paths will cross again in the near future.  It was also sad to say good-bye to my fellow RRCA conventioneers.  Everyone who attended the convention had a fabulous time.  Many thanks to the RRCA, the Lakeland Runners Club, and the Polk County Bureau of Tourism and Sports Marketing for hosting a most memorable convention.

Marian Wright Edelman once said, “Service is the rent we pay for living.”  I am proud to count myself as one of life’s renters.  The RRCA is a grassroots organization that is dedicated to the service of runners and running organizations and events, and I am proud to be a member of the RRCA’s service team.  I look forward to renewing friendships and seeing everyone at next year’s RRCA convention in Fredericksburg. 

Until then, keep climbing that mountain and have faith.

Mitchell Garner
Central Region Director

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