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Wednesday, Oct 01, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Living proof of the glory that is Gasparilla weekend

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Published:   |   Updated: February 24, 2014 at 03:46 PM

TAMPA - One reason I love the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic is because I can participate in an event I cover. I'm sure that shatters some journalistic tenets, but all anyone ever says about that is "good luck" and "have a great race" - stuff like that. So at 9 a.m. Saturday, along with several thousand of my closest friends, we all awaited the start of this annual Tampa Festival de' Sweat.

I mean, I knew it was going to be bad when the guy on the loudspeaker warned runners we would be racing under "yellow" conditions for our 5K journey along Bayshore Boulevard. He said something about increasing temperatures and 95 percent humidity and, well, at that point what are you gonna do?

I actually almost hung it up this year, but then Leigh Spann - a News Channel 8 meteorologist and just about the nicest person in television - asked me to be part of her training group for some stuff the station was doing in advance of the race. I'm pretty sure there are civil penalties for saying no to Leigh, so I signed on one more time.

At one point, she actually sent an email to her group that basically read, "No matter how slow you're going, you're still lapping everyone on the couch."

That's my new battle cry.

They sounded the starting blast, and off we went. I got the same feeling of equal parts anticipation and dread I always get for this race - anticipation, because even training to run 3.1 miles is not easy when you're an old goat like me, and dread because my only goal anymore is to finish and get my medal.

Well, I did finish. I got my medal. It hangs with the other seven I've collected from this event. And as the finish line grew larger in front of me, I thought, hallelujah. Pulled it off one more time.

Did I mention I love this event?

Where else would I have the opportunity to interview the mayor of Tampa, Bob Buckhorn, while I was dressed in running gear and getting ready for the race? Is this a great job, or what?

"If you pull a Rosie Ruiz, I'm going to call you out," he said.

Not to worry. I ran the course, although "running" is a relative term. I'm more into forward motion than running.

Mayor Bob had to hustle to make it to race day. He was in Tallahassee on Friday and his flight home was canceled. If he waited until Saturday morning, he would have missed the 5K and 15K races. So, the mayor rented a car and drove home late Friday night, and was up and at 'em in time to ride in the pace car for Saturday's festivities. He was running on coffee fumes, just so you know.

Anyone would have understood if he backed out. He had gone to Panama for three days, trying to increase commerce between Tampa and that nation. He was home for a day, then flew to Mumbai, India, as part of Tampa's host role in the Bollywood awards this spring.

"We had a five-hour layover in Newark," he said. "Then I had the last seat in the last row of coach."

This man loves his city.

He also loves the Gasparilla Distance Classic.

"It's a world-class running event," he said. "This was the road race that put Tampa on the running map."

It is on the map because of people like Sharon Salter. She has volunteered for about 30 years at this race. She was on the job again this weekend.

"I started with registration and packet pick-up," she said. "I just love this race. I love working with the people of this race. I absolutely love giving back to the community."

And then there is Jonathan Mott, who won the 15K event in 48:44.

Jonathan is better than most any of us ever were, ever will be, or ever dreamed of being. Good for him.

This basically amounted to a training run for him, as if 9.3 miles on a terminally humid day trains you for anything except pain. It actually gave me a little hope/fear when he said, "The humidity sucked very bad, as you can see from my jersey."

Hey, if the conditions bothered someone of this guy's caliber, why would I feel bad for feeling, well, bad?

We're all doing what we can, and that's another thing I love about this event.

I can't play quarterback for the Bucs.

I can't pitch to Derek Jeter for the Rays.

I can't play power forward for USF.

I wouldn't even know what to do on the ice with Marty St. Louis bearing down with the puck on his stick.

But, by gum, I can get my sorry butt up in time to do roadwork that will prepare me to finish a distance I once thought unattainable. That's the glory in Gasparilla.

Leigh Spann nailed it.

If you've been thinking about doing this, stop thinking and start walking.

Walk a little. Then run a little.

Walk a little more. Run a little more.

You can do this. I'm living proof.

Oh, and maybe next year you can join Mayor Buckhorn in the 5K. He has run this race before, but not for a while.

I told him, "I'm calling you out - 5K, next year."

You can do this, Mr. Mayor.

We all can.

A lot of us just did.

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