Iowa City runner gets his ‘bucket list’ twice – The Gazette

Iowa City runner gets his ‘bucket list’ twice  The Gazette

Megan Watts (left), Gene Wandling and Bill Rodgers near the finish line at Saturday’s Bix 7 in Davenport. (Submitted photo)

Gene Wandling (right) and his daughter-in-law Megan Watts (left) pose with legendary distance runner Bill Rodgers after “pacing” Rodgers during Saturday’s Bix 7 in Davenport. (Family photo)

This is a bit awkward.

Those were the first five words of an email from “almost-72-year-old” Gene Wandling of Iowa City late last week.

Wandling wanted to share his story — hesitantly — about the Bix 7 road race, which celebrated its 48th running on Saturday in Davenport.

“I am sending this at the urging of a friend who insisted that this is a big deal,” he continued.

We all need more friends like Gene’s. We all need to tell our stories, no matter how “awkward” it may seem.

We all have stories to tell. We all have good stories to tell.

So this is a bit awkward for me, too. Instead of writing Gene’s story today, I’m going to let Gene write his story, with a little assist from an almost 62-year-old editor.

Wandling started running in early 2002 and has since completed 11 marathons, including four tours of the Boston Marathon. He finished the 2013 Boston Marathon “approximately 10 minutes prior to the Boylston Street explosions.”

“My wife and close friends from Iowa City were standing in the same block as the second explosion, but they had left the area just minutes before the second bomb detonated.”

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One of his favorite races, though, is the Bix 7. That’s where his story begins.

“During mile six of the 2018 race, I unexpectedly found myself running next to Bill Rodgers — the iconic marathoner of the 1970s who won both the Boston and New York City marathons four times each and represented the United States in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.”

Wandling ran “shoulder to shoulder” with Rodgers over the final mile.

“As we crossed the finish line, I was ‘pumped’ after having had such an opportunity,” he wrote.

Before the 2021 Bix race, Wandling met Rodgers at the pre-race expo and “reminded him that we had run the final mile together in 2018.

“Although hesitant to impose, I asked if I could possibly run the entire seven miles with him the next day and he graciously agreed,” Wandling wrote. “Not only is Bill an amazing runner at age 74, he is a wonderful ambassador for distance running.”

Wandling called the 2021 Bix “a bucket list opportunity to meet up with Bill prior to the race and run alongside him for the next seven miles.”

He emailed Rodgers a “thank you” and the legendary runner responded with a “looking forward to running together again in 2022.”

So Wandling got a second “bucket list” moment on Saturday, one he was able to share with his daughter-in-law, Megan Watts, who flew in from Houston to run the race.

Saturday, Wandling wrote, was a “beautiful day at Bix 7 — warm but not overwhelmingly hot.

“Bill, my daughter-in-law and I successfully completed the hilly, seven-mile course running a comfortable pace of 9:49 per mile. Our pace varied — a bit slower on the uphills and at other times a pace as fast as 8:30 per mile. Bill recently recovered from COVID, but still ran a very respectable pace at age 74.

“We started the race near the front — just behind the elite runners.”

Rodgers was a recognizable runner on Saturday, as always, and got several “shout outs from hundreds of onlookers.

“He is truly a runner and spectator favorite as he has run over 40 consecutive Bix 7 races,” Wandling wrote.

“My souvenir is that Bill signed my race bib with ‘thanks for pacing me.’

“Pacing may be a bit of an overstatement, but nonetheless a great compliment.“

Wandling got to experience wonderful moments, running alongside one his favorites. How may have golfed with Tiger Woods, played one-on-one with Michael Jordan or caught a pass from Aaron Rodgers?

One of the great gifts runners enjoy in events like Bix is we “commoners” can run side-by-side, or at least on the same course, with the best in the world. Rodgers certainly was among the best distance runners in the world during his prime.

“I think Bill actually enjoyed running with us, as long runs always seem easier when sharing the experience,” Wandling wrote. “… Our hope is Bill might invite us to ‘pace’ him again at a future Bix 7.”

In the worlds of a couple of other legends, Neil Young and Stephen Stills:

“We’ve been through some things together

“With trunks of memories still to come

“We found things to do in stormy weather

“Long may you run”

Comments: (319) 398-8461; jr.ogden@thegazette.com