Saturday, June 15, 2013

Explosions Didn’t Stop Bill Iffrig from Finishing the Boston Marathon

Here is the text of my remarks at the 2013 graduation ceremonies of Bruton High, Grafton High, Tabb High, York High, and York River Academy.
Welcome graduating students; family, friends, and teachers of graduating students; and School Board members.
In deciding what to share with you today, I thought about contemporary heroes, people who inspire us. I wanted to identify someone heroic, not merely famous, to be the topic of my comments. Sometimes, chance events, weird talents, and public curiosity thrust people into the spotlight for 15 minutes or more of fame: Kim Cardashian; Abbie the crazy dance instructor from Dance Moms; and even Clint Eastwood’s chair. Famous, however, does not mean heroic.
Bill Iffrig is a good focus for my comments because he is an inspirational hero. On the morning of April 15, 78-year old Bill Iffrig set off to run the Boston Marathon. After running for almost four hours, Bill was close to the finish line when two bombs exploded. In watching videotape of the bombings, we see that Bill wobbled after the first explosion. To use his words, his legs felt like spaghetti. Then his left leg gave away, and he crumpled to the ground. Three police officers ran towards him. You’ve probably seen the photograph that was taken at that moment with the three police officers and Bill Iffrig. What you may not know is that Bill Iffrig did not stay down. This 78-year old man took the hand of a race official, stood up, and completed the remaining yards of the 26.2 mile race, his overall pace faster than nine minutes per mile.
Later, President Obama commented, “Like Bill Iffrig . . . we may be momentarily knocked off our feet, but we’ll pick ourselves up.”  Journalist John

Brant recently wrote in the article I used as the primary reference for these comments, “You might recognize that Iffrig had been training for nearly 80 years for this moment, accruing courage and endurance in workaday deposits. It never occurred to the three cops in the photo not to rush toward the fallen runner, and it never occurred to Iffrig not to finish what he had started.”

          What was involved with his 80 years of preparation? Bill lives in Lake Stevens, Washington in a house he built 49 years ago. He worked forty years in the paper mills. As a young man, he would leave the paper mill at the end of his shift to work on building his home. He framed, plumbed and wired the house himself, working late into the night and then getting up at 5 a.m. to go back to work.
          Later, Bill enjoyed guiding backpacking trips for his son’s scout troop and eventually took up mountain climbing, summiting 65 of the highest peaks in Washington. At age 42, Bill began running in order to stay in shape for mountain climbing. Since then, Bill has run more than 46,000 miles, finished 45 marathons, and earned medals in three events at the World Masters Athletics Championships.
          While flying back from Boston after the bombings, Bill received a complimentary copy of Sports Illustrated with his photo on the cover, a free

meal and a glass of wine. His running buddy jokingly complained saying, “Bill, all you did was fall down.” Bill did a lot more than just fall down. He is now a symbol of persistence—of grit—in the face of tough challenges.

          Graduates, each of you will face challenges in your life, perhaps not as dramatic as the explosions in Boston, but significant challenges nonetheless. After all, we can minimize risks, but it is not within our control to avoid challenges. We do control, however, how we respond to challenges. How will we respond?  Our responses, like Bill’s response, will be affected by how we live our lives on a day-to-day basis. To guide us, I want to boil down the story of this man to two phrases, four words, from which we can all take inspiration. Work hard. Show grit.
Congratulations, Class of 2013. I commend you for your accomplishments and wish you well in your future endeavors.
The primary source of information for these remarks was an article in the July 2013 edition of Runner’s World entitled “Back on His Feet,” by John Brant.

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