An Anniversary & A Birthday at The Bill Rodgers Jingle Bell Run by Jeff Benjamin-12/19/17


Bill Rodgers 1-2.jpegBill Rodgers and Jeff Benjamin on Jingle Bell Run, photo from Jeff Benjamin

Bill Rodgers1.jpegBill Rodgers and friends, photo by Jeff Benjamin

Way back in 1977, in Mariah magazine, which became Outside, the late John Jerome wrote about Frank Shorter, "by stringing 26 miles at five minutes a mile in Munich, Frank Shorter invented running".

To paraphrase the late Mr. Jerome, "By winning New York and Boston Marathons three times, by speaking to running fans when he was dog tired, and by being such a running genius, Bill Rodgers made running fun, and reinvented the sport."

Jeff Benjamin, my long suffering scribe on the East Coast, wrote this piece a couple of weeks ago on a man we respect, honor and love, Bill Rodgers on his birthday.

A belated happy birthday Bill Rodgers!

An Anniversary & A Birthday at The Bill Rodgers Jingle Bell Run by Jeff Benjamin- 12/19
"It was me, my brother Charlie and my friend Jason Kehoe who started, I believe, the first Jingle Bell Run in the country!"
So said "The King of The Roads"- Bill Rodgers. "We put it on to give something back from the Sport especially to the Special Olympics", said one of America's Living Running Legends. Started in 1977, the fun run (for some) waded through the streets of Boston, the scene of Rodgers' pinnacle 4 Boston Marathon victories. These days the small town of Somerville opens its streets, bars and restaurants to the over 4,000 Runners who "invade" the town.
Many running aficionados know the Bill Rodgers saga- how this high level high school and collegiate runner left the Sport after graduation, wandering around and trying to find oneself during the tulmultuous time of the late 1960's, even smoking cigarettes for a time!
According to Rodgers - "When I moved to Boston to work at the Brigham Hospital to fulfill my selective service Obligation in 1970, my best friend Jason Kehoe was also at Brigham fulfilling his selective service obligation as a conscientious objector...I saw the Christmas lights at the Boston Common and it reminded me of home and when I'd been a runner....I started looking at the lights at night on the few occasions I ran during that time."
Beginning around 1973, Rodgers decided to look at the Boston City lights while running more often. Motivated by losing nearly everything including his job and trusty motorcycle, Rodgers returned to running. Through a long arduous period of trial and error, Rodgers (who actually dropped out of a Boston Marathon) finally got it all perfect in 1975, as he set the American Marathon record at the Boston Marathon in NIKE shoes sent to him from Steve Prefontaine. That victory cemented "Boston Billy" as one of the world's best distance runners, which also opened many opportunities for him.
"In 1977, we opened our Bill Rodgers Running store in Brighton, said Rodgers. "I'd also just won the Fukuoka Marathon. I was back by December 9th when store workers and a few friends ran the 1st Jingle Bell run from our store, which was located at the 22 mile mark along the Boston Marathon course and went down to the Common and back. It was around a 9 mile run!"
"I believe we put on the 1st Jingle Bell run in the USA, maybe anywhere!",said Rodgers. " Throughout the years the race grew to 4000 runners by word of mouth and we raised a significant amount of money for the Mass. Special Olympics."
The race held special meaning to Rodgers. "I had been a Special Education Teacher in Boston for 3 years and I wanted to help. My brother Charlie who directed the run didn't take any of the runners entry fee or a salary for this run, none of us did.
It was, as the Legendary Johnny Kelley would call it ," A labor of love!"
As the run grew so did the names of other legends who participated. "Joan Benoit Samuelson would come down from Maine and Greg Meyer ran many times," said Rodgers of the 2 fellow Boston Marathon Legends. Meyer would return home to Grand Rapids, Michigan and organize his own annual Jingle Bell run. Fellow competitor and friend Tom Fleming also started a similar event in his hometown in Bloomfield, New Jersey. "Tom waas a Special Education teacher as well and raised money for Bloomfield special education students," said Rodgers of the 2-time NYC Marathon Champ, who passed away this past April.
Perhaps the most crazy and outrageous time was when bartender and Falmouth Road Race Founder Tommy Leonard came to town. "
Tommy brought in a big wagon towed by a big Belgian horse to lead our group of runners from Boston College," said Rodgers. The Jingle Bell Run became so popular for Rodgers that, "we started 2 or 3 other Jingle Bell runs in Taunton and Springfield.... We'd stop and sing Christmas Carols along the way!"
These days the race is held in the Boston suburb of Somerville, where close to 4,000 runners and walkers came down last week. Aside from celebrating the 40th anniversary of the traditional run, the race leadership of Paul Collyer, Jack Connolly and a host of others made sure to acknowledge another key event - Bill Rodgers 70th Birthday, which takes place on December 23rd. Prior to the run, the chorus of 4,000 joined in singing "Happy Birthday" to the man who's brought so much inspiration and joy to runners everywhere.
As the competitive field, led by men's winner Brian Harvey (15:07) and women's champ Kaela O'Neil-(17:48) took off at paces which were very familiar to Rodgers years ago, "Boston Billy", running along at 10-minute mile pace, soaked in the event as well as the various yells of "Happy Birthday" coming his way. "I always go easy in this race," said Rodgers, whose brother Charlie ran as well. "It's a great way to celebrate running, especially after the race where many pubs and restaurants downtown are open to the runners!"
"I love the Jingle Bell Run!"
And that love is definitely given back to "Boston Billy."

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