Friday, March 23, 2012

Dallas, I want to tell you a story

Scott and Mindy Williford at Fenway Park the day after the Boston Marathon, 2011

Introduction: The e-mail message arrived as a complete surprise from Scott Williford. I’d known him briefly ten years ago and by first name only, when he occasionally repaired my bicycle at the local shop where he worked part time while attending Tennessee Tech. The message was about him and his wife Mindy, whom I’d known for an equally brief interval, and separate from him before they were man and wife.

I’d met Mindy at the gym. I knew she was a student with athletic skills and that she was an expert whitewater paddler who’d been mentioned in a book on that subject. During our short acquaintance she went running with me one day.

Ten years passed, and Scott sent me the message. I’ve since learned they’ve been very successful. Scott owns a sales agency with four employees that represents cycling and running gear across several states. Mindy is the CFO of a hedge fund, and - ever the athlete - she rides her bike to work more than she drives the car. They live in Chattanooga with their cat Leo.

Scott’s message was poignant and expressive and it astonished me. It’s a story about: endurance sport, a small kindness, awakening and transformation, and success. Above all, I think, it’s a love story. It’s pasted below unchanged. My title was his subject line.


I have no idea if you remember me, I spent a few of my college years working at Cookeville Bicycles, around the same time you were deciding it was a good idea to follow a 112 mile bike ride with a marathon. I worked on your bicycle a few times, and always enjoyed listening to your stories. A few weeks ago, I was in Cookeville, and picked up a copy of your book at Brian's store. I didn't realize until I started reading it that it was your second book, so I guess I will have to look for the other at some point.

I very much enjoyed reading your collection of stories, and I thought you might enjoy hearing one of mine, well, actually it is probably more my wife's story than mine.

As you mentioned several times in your book, you have an easy to remember name, as well as an easy to get along with personality. I don't guess I really talked to you all that often, but I always remembered who you were and would see you out running in Cookeville on a regular basis. From reading your book, I believe that I may have actually ran your first race with you, though it would have been before I met you.

Really I want to tell you about my wife. I met this shy girl in college, and immediately fell in love. We met in Cumberland Mountain Outdoor Sports on the square. We were both into whitewater paddling, and fairly quickly had our first date kayaking on the Big South Fork of the the snow; I knew I had found the right woman! This young woman was just starting to discover that she had the makings of an athlete. I introduced her to rock climbing, cycling, and of course, running. She struggled some at first, but pretty quickly began running almost every day. She ran her first 10k in Cookeville, and was shocked she could actually run that far.

Skip ahead several years, and we both got into triathlon, no IMs at this point, but is probably in our future. From our entry into triathlon, more running races followed, including the 2007 Battlefield Marathon in Chickamauga, GA, which we struggled through together on next to no training in the dismal time of 4:50. From that race, we both knew we had to come back to do better, and set breaking 4 hours as a goal. We came back the next year, I ran a 3:50, she a 3:55. At that point, she began to feel that she could possible qualify for Boston. So, going into the 2009 Battlefield Marathon, her goal was to run 3:40. At the end of the day, her chip time read exactly that, 3:40:00, dead on her goal, 59 seconds to spare.

She ran Boston in 2011, the same year you finished second in your age group. It was our first trip to Boston, and not wanting to ruin a vacation with an all out marathon, she cruised through the course at 3:45.

Here is why I am telling you this story. My wife's name when she met you was Mindy Freeman. I have no idea if you remember her or not, but you took her on her very first double digit run (10 miles) probably sometime around 2002. She was shocked she could make it that far, and I remember talking with her later that day, and saying, I could never have done it without Dallas. She honestly took the confidence she gained from that day with her into our first marathon attempts, and her eventual Boston Qualifier. She refers to her run with Dallas often, and it was obviously a pivotal moment in her life as a runner.

I know for you that taking Mindy out on that run that day was a simple thing, but it had a profound impact on her life, and helped to shape the woman that I love. As I read your book, I realized that there are probably dozens of these stories following you, some you may know about, others are probably like Mindy's.

As we well know as runners, running can help to shape and define your life, and create memories that will last a lifetime. Some of those memories are of great victories, even if most of them are simply personal. You have a collection of awards and records to show your ability as a runner, but the one you deserve the most is one they can't make a plaque for, that you have inspired dozens if not hundreds of people to find something they never knew was inside them. I just wanted to say thank you.

If you are ever down in Chattanooga, feel free to look us up, Mindy can probably keep up with you running, I might have to resort to a bicycle.