THEY CAME, THEY WERE SEEN AND THEY CONQUERED

08.10.2018

A little play on the famous quote associated with Julius Caesar: Veni, Vidi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered). Because Roger Robinson is so big on history, I figured this was an appropriate title for this little report of the recent visit of Roger Robinson (launching his new book: When Running Made History) and Kathrine Switzer (Marathon Woman). Two nights at Forerunners (4th Avenue first and then Main Street) thrilled many local runners (and a few visitors as well).

These two are master writers and speakers. Both have more than significant running resumes. We’ll get to that later. This is about the visit here in Vancouver. Roger did share that when the two of them married some 30 years ago, they debated what to do about living arrangements. At the time, Kathrine was a New York kind of girl (if ever home), while Roger called Wellington, NZ his place of residence. Apparently, Vancouver was high on the list of possibilities.

Vancouver ‘Running Family’ welcomes Roger and Kathrine

Roger has a very personal history in Vancouver, having come here in 1981 to set his marathon PB at the then Vancouver International Marathon, while also setting a masters record that stands to this day (2:18:44). It was also good enough for third place OA on a cold, wet day that seemed anything but conducive to record setting. Both Kathrine and Roger have an extensive list of Vancouver folks they can call friends, so are pleased to visit and see the locals, which humbly includes me. That was how the ‘party’ started, over lunch on False Creek. I suggested to Roger that the weather was always like that on Monday afternoon (see photo to the right) and he recalled that his 1981 Vancouver Marathon was perhaps, not exactly the same. I tried.

Running meets Art at the Vancouver Mural Festival.

I am going to veer off the main topic, for a very personal moment, because what happened after lunch was extraordinary. Our daughter Danielle is both a runner and an artist. Her running is pretty recreational, while her art is more than a little professional. She is widely known as The Jealous Curator and in her own right as an artist. As it happened, she was in Vancouver painting five (small, she said) murals as part of the Vancouver Mural Festival. There was a great hope that she could attend one of the two seminar presentations by Kathrine and Roger, but events conspired against that being able to happen. One of the big reasons for Danielle to meet Kathrine was the common interest they have in elevating women in their respective fields. Danielle Krysa is the author of three books on art, with a fourth about to be released officially on October 2nd. The new book is entitled: A Big Important Art Book: Now With Women. Yes, that’s right, women have not had a big place in art history, even if they may have been present. Danielle’s new literary offering is her contribution to changing that, even just a little. I was telling Kathrine and Roger about this over lunch and expressing how sorry I was that Danielle would not be able to come that night (she was also speaking), or the next evening either. I explained that, as we sat pleasantly eating our lunch, she was labouring in the hot sun to finish her fifth mural. The first question was “Where?“, the second “How far?” When I said “Not far”, the immediate response was “Well, let’s go see her.” So, when lunch was done, and with the aid of Margaret and Geoffrey Buttner, we drove the few blocks to the location of the art installation in progress.

The reason I had to include this is not to promote the kid or her work (OK, a little) but to point out that these iconic visitors with a jam-packed schedule already, wanted to take time to go to her if she couldn’t come to them. That is beyond special. It would have been easy and reasonable to just say something like, ‘Oh what a shame. Please wish her well and maybe next time we can meet up.’ That isn’t how these people roll. It is one of the reasons they are special.

Special is the operative word of the whole visit, I must say.

Katherine Switzer – 261 Fearless (261, her bib number from Boston 1967)

The people at their presentations obviously thought so. They bought up all the books available for the two evenings and more! Both presentations were sharp and witty not to mention inspirational.

Kathrine’s inspiration started on a cold wet road on the Boston Marathon course in 1967 and has been picking up momentum ever since, and right up to today. Last year, she ran Boston on the 50th anniversary of that first time when the race official tried to rip off her number bib and toss her from his ‘hallowed’ race. There was actually probably MORE fuss in 2017, but this time it was all good. It was a celebration and not just of an event, but of a huge change in attitude, and for women in distance running. As Roger commented, it wasn’t that cold soggy race in 1967 that was important, it was everything that happened afterwards, including the advent of the ‘261 Fearless’ movement, meant to empower women on a global basis, especially in places where what we take for granted, is not the norm. This has become Kathrine’s newest venture meant to support and encourage women globally: 261 Fearless.

Forerunners’ co-founder, Peter Butler introduces Roger Robinson

Roger was the featured speaker in recognition of his new offering: When Running Made History. I reviewed it here quite recently, so will not get into a great discussion now. If you want to know more about the book, follow this LINK.

As I reported in the review and as he explained at the presentations, the book is not about ALL historical events related to running, but rather ones where he was eye-witness and could deliver a personal perspective more than an opinion. In the presentations he stated that rather than try to keep himself outside the situation(s) as an expert observer, he would own the fact that these were actually personal experiences. It is what makes the book special and his presentations too.

Roger and Kathrine are clearly a good team. The audience was amused!

I can say without doubt (I was there – it was a personal historic experience) that the audiences ate up everything Roger and Kathrine had to say. The audience included young and old, particularly one young woman of very tender age, visiting with her parents from Kentucky, who will treasure meeting K.V. Switzer, getting her own inscribed copy of Marathon Woman and the obligatory (today) ‘selfie’ with Kathrine. Because of her age and because I have no idea how to get permission, I have decided not to reproduce the photo here, but the joy on both their faces is an amazing and very moving thing to see.

Some of the audience waiting to have their book(s) signed.

The lines for both of them afterwards to sign books were long, happy and patient. None of the pretty common in such situations: Hello, what’s your name, sign book, thanks for coming – and NEXT. Both Roger and Kathrine took time to chat and learn something of the eager fan clutching their brand new book(s), thus making the inscription very personal. We even set up a production line with Margaret covering Kathrine and me, Roger, for the photo-op. Everyone has a phone these days, so as they came up to meet and greet and get their book signed, we would take their phone and snap a couple of photos for them as they chatted with the author of their choice. I’m pretty sure a lot of treasured souvenirs were created that evening, one that won’t soon be forgotten by those in attendance.

Roger introduces ‘Russell’ his first bionic knee.

Then, Mark, his other knee, a todler really at just 11 months

At the end of my book review of a couple of weeks back, I kind of predicted that Roger may appear with his closest running companions, Russell and Mark. He did. ‘Russell’ is his right knee replacement, while ‘Mark’ is his much younger (just 11 months) left knee replacement. Their names derive from the surgeons who installed the hardware. Russell had set some fairly amazing PBs prior to the need for Mark to join the family. Roger reports that the sibling knees are getting along quite well and Russell mentors Mark, who now, and at a very tender 11 months of age, has a 5K PB of around 30 minutes. Roger has worked this into one of his major topics of historical aspects of running: the modern day refusal to quit just because some calendar claims you are ‘old’, or some physical condition alters your capability. Roger is 79 and while his existing masters record for the Vancouver Marathon is in no danger from future efforts by him (he also held masters records for Boston and New York at one time), he refuses to give up running and being as competitive as he is able. I am sure that strikes a note with many of the readers of this blog.

Between the two evenings, so many of Vancouver’s finest runners and members of the running community were in attendance. One of those was Dr. Jack Taunton, a member of the recent Super Seniors Seminar panel and a pillar of Vancouver running for decades, both as a runner and an organizer. Others included Geoff and Margaret Buttner, Marty Wanless and Frank Stebner. Interestingly, all members of Lions Gate Road Runners one of the first and longest enduring Vancouver running clubs. Co-owner of Forerunners Main Street and two-time Olympian Carey Nelson also hosted the Tuesday event with Peter and Karen Butler. On Monday, Doug and Diane Clement participated, two more Olympians who have done outstanding service in the Vancouver sporting scene. With the exception of Carey Nelson, these folks are shown above in the Monday lunchtime photo. Carey (blue shirt on the right in the photo of the book signing line) spent the evening making sure everything was ‘just so’.

Ultra Runner Ellie Greenwood with Roger and Kathrine

In the audience was world ultrarun champion and record holder, Ellie Greenwood, and to show how the running community works, I believe Roger and Kathrine were as excited to meet Ellie as she was to meet them. I can’t think of another field of pursuit where people recognize each other so fully as in running, and that includes the contributions of those who support with volunteering and organizing and, ahem, even writing blogs.

So, the much anticipated visit is done and Roger has gone off to an event in Eastern Canada while Kathrine heads to Chicago, both to continue doing what they do. Here, we are left with the memories of a few days of something truly special and looking forward to the next time.

Thank you to all who made this happen!