Bill Rodgers is still running.
At 73 he’s never really stopped — except for a two-year period in his life — from his boyhood in Connecticut where, like many youngsters, he ran for the joy of it. Then, running a mile in gym class when he was 15, he turned in the fastest time for the school and was promptly recruited for the cross country team.
He was a star at Wesleyan University, before going on to become one of America’s greatest athletes, running and winning long distance races, including marathons, on five continents. And now, once again, he will be at the start line for the 42nd Shelter Island 10K & 5K Run/Walk on Saturday, June 19.
Shelter Island’s signature annual sporting event is one Mr. Rodgers eagerly looks forward to, he told the Reporter recently from his home in Massachusetts. “It’s such a beautiful course, with the hills, trees, the views of the water,” he said. “It reminds me of when I was a kid running cross country. I’ve done big city races in the U.S. and all around the world, but I always look to get back to running like when I was a kid, in a natural, beautiful setting. And that’s Shelter Island.”
This year’s race is presented by Northwell Health, which Mr. Rodgers said is fitting. “Think of all the people in the medical profession who helped save lives during the worst of the pandemic, who put their lives at risk to help others,” he said. “It’s great we can do something for them.”
Competing in more than 10 Shelter Island 10Ks, Mr. Rodgers, who was present at the creation of the world-wide running boom in the 1980s (some would say he was the cause), has had a career that includes winning the Boston and New York marathons four times, twice breaking the American record at Boston.
All told, he’s entered more than 60 marathons and won 22. He was named the premier marathoner by Track and Field News three times. In his prime, he was running 130 miles a week and has said he estimates he’s run more than 200,000 miles.
Mr. Rodgers continues to be the inspiration for many people to lace up their running shoes and get out and challenge themselves to achieve better health and fitness. Dr. Frank Adipietro — who along with his wife, Mary Ellen, the race director, are the driving forces of the 10K — credits Mr. Rodgers for kick-starting his dedication to running.
Asked about his one break from the sport he loves, he said it had to do with his moral and political convictions, and a flirtation with tobacco.
As a college senior at Wesleyan in December 1969, he ran a personal best for two miles on an indoor track, clocking in at 8:58, during a time he said, “when the Vietnam War was taking over public consciousness more than ever. I’d always been against our government’s efforts to prosecute the war, and I made a decision not to take part in it.”
The winter and spring of his senior year there was a national student strike at more than 700 American colleges and universities, and classes were canceled for a time. “My track running was shut down,” Mr. Rodgers said.
He applied for and received conscientious objector status. For two years he worked at a Boston hospital in a low-paying job. “I didn’t run, did my job and became a smoker,” he remembered. Seeing the 1971 Boston Marathon re-ignited the sport he had loved all his life. He began working out at the local Boston YMCA running on an indoor track and outdoors. By 1973 he was in the pack of the Boston Marathon.
“I dropped out due to the heat, humidity, the lack of water availability on the course, and not knowing how to pace myself for the 26.2 distance,” he said.
But he kept running. Two years later he was the first to break the tape at Boston.
“Running is the world’s most competitive sport” he said. “Every country has cross country or road racers,” he said, because a good pair of shoes, discipline and dedication are all you need to keep fit and lead a healthy life.
He still competes — “I do it for the fun” — and is looking forward to races this summer in Philadelphia and Davenport, Iowa.
But Shelter Island is special. “It’s a classic road race,” Mr. Rodgers said. “And the 10K has such a strong community connection and support. It’s a great day, every year, and fun for everyone.”
The Island’s great race starts at 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 19. For more information, and how you can get involved, go to events.elitefeats.com/shelterisland21.
Just the facts: Shelter Island’s 10K
Saturday, June 19
• 10K participants will have a staggered start beginning at 5 p.m.
• 5K participants will also have staggered starts beginning at 5:20 p.m.
•10K — $50
• 5K — $40
• Virtual 10K — $50
• Virtual 5K — $40
To register and find information on the virtual segment:
• Social distancing will be in effect and masks are to be worn by those in assigned corrals prior to the race and donned again as they complete the course.
• Starts are to be staggered with race chips marking finish times
• Anyone not receiving a corral number in advance of the race date should visit the FAQ tent outside the Shelter Island School gymnasium by 4:40 p.m. There will no provision for onsite registration.
• There will be no shuttle service between North and South ferries and the race start site outside Shelter Island School.
• Northwell Health is the presenting sponsor with Corcoran, Saunders, North Fork Surgery Center, Norsic and Ready Fresh signed on to date.
Beneficiaries of funds include Cohen’s Children’s Hospital, the Shelter Island Community Fund and some non-specific Island charities.