The past few weeks I've been busy finishing the last edits to Girl on the Run - Sarah Tucker Redux and haven't had time for my blogs. As you may know, my stories are fictional, although many of the scenes are based on real events - in hope that it adds reality to the narrative.
In this book two stories stand out for me - ones that I remember as vividly as if they happened yesterday. In November of 1985 I was at the DI NCAA Cross Country Championships in Milwaukee, freezing my ass off while I watched Wisconsin's Tim Hacker and Peoria native Suzie Tuffey, running for NC State, win the individual titles on the snowy Dretzka Park expanse.
The Wisconsin men and women ruled the competition with great team performances, both squads with five in the top thirty. One of the shocks was the tremendous performance by the Iowa State women who grabbed 2nd - head coach Ron Renko going into the meet with a hope of finishing 8th, maybe better if they had a good day.
I saw him after the race and shook his hand, the smile on Ron's bespeckled face bursting at the seams, nodding at the girls and saying "congratulations" as I waved to them. Three hours later Ron, athletes Sheryl Maahs, Julie Rose, and Sue Baxter, assistant coach Pat Moynihan, the team trainer, and the pilot were dead.
The last of a trio of Iowa State planes crashed on the approach to the Des Moines airport, everyone on board perishing. The memory continues to make me sad.
Six months later I was in Indianapolis for the DI Championships in early June of 1986, watching the women's 10K on Wednesday night, cheering for Northwestern's Alena Palmquist, the Wildcat athlete you see on the back cover of this book. Back when Northwestern had a women's track team.
Even though it was late in the day, the humidity was high, runners sweating profusely as I kept track of the five in the lead pack - Stephanie Herbst of Wisconsin, Ellen Reynolds of Duke, Christine McMicken of Oklahoma State, Kathy Ormsby running for NC State, and Clemson's Ute Jamrozy.
Halfway through the race Ormsby, the recent NCAA recordsetter in the 10K, disappeared from the pack without much notice. I didn't find out until the next morning that she had run off the track while the race was ongoing, climbed a 6' fence, and jumped off the bridge over the White River. She dropped to the river bank and landed on the shoreline, paralyzed from the waist down.
I can still remember the haunted look on Coach Geiger's face the next morning.
This book is a tribute to those athletes, and all the other females who struggled for equality in sports - despite Title IX. These women of the late 70's and early 80's paved the way for today's women and girls and we are all indebted to them.