I still remember the excitement when I saw my first byline. Several years earlier, I’d suffered through a singularly unpleasant bike trip in France (part of which involved a near-lynch mob, but that’s another story). I transmuted the experience into a cautionary tale that Bike World magazine bought for the princely sum of …$15. The amount was trifling. Being paid was terrific. I was now a professional writer.
Growing up in Tacoma, Washington, I was a voracious reader. Besides adventure, sports, mystery and other works of fiction, I also devoured biographies, histories, and a plethora of additional nonfiction titles. It seemed like I always had my nose in a book. But unlike so many of my present-day colleagues, I never had the same zeal for writing. Putting my thoughts on paper was an onerous, enormous chore. Then I had a stroke of extraordinary luck as a senior at Stadium High School. To fill a sudden vacancy in the English department, the school lured Miss Elizabeth Fraser out of retirement. She praised my writing, and convinced me that I had considerable ability in stringing words and sentences together.
At Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington (the valley they liked so much they named it twice), I was fortunate to meet two men who greatly influenced me. One was Dr. George Ball, religion professor and the most compassionate, caring man I’ve ever met. Hundreds of Whitties will tell you the same thing. The other was cross country and track coach Bill Martin, a one-time “world’s fastest human.” Bill nurtured my modest talent in running and turned it into a lifelong passion.
The twin streams of writing and running came together some years later when I began a 17-year stint publishing Northwest Runner, a regional running magazine. The most frequent comment I heard during those years was, “You must run a lot of marathons.” Actually, I hadn’t run a lot of marathons. I hadn’t run any. When it was time to move on after producing 200 issues, I celebrated by running my one and only lifetime marathon. It was over the original course from the Plain of Marathon to downtown Athens. Like my French bike trip, it wasn’t a pleasant experience. And like the bike trip, it generated more writing credits.
My life came full circle a couple of years later through another happy accident—I was fired from a job I detested. I picked up the pieces and began writing and editing the same type of books that had exerted such a strong fascination on me when I was growing up. I like to say that my oeuvre provides an advertisement for the value of a liberal arts education, as Whitman provided me with a lively curiosity about so many things.
Sometimes I look at my listings in the card catalogue in our local library. It’s fun to see how many of my books are off the shelves and in the hands of youngsters who, like me, are transported by the miracle of words on a printed page.