Warsaw Community Schools Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert asks marathon runner Bill Rodgers questions during Rodgers’ presentation Wednesday. Photo by Jackie Gorski
Warsaw Community Schools Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert asks marathon runner Bill Rodgers questions during Rodgers’ presentation Wednesday. Photo by Jackie Gorski
Four-time Boston and New York City marathons winner Bill Rodgers spoke to Warsaw Community Schools fifth-graders Wednesday at the high school.

Rodgers spoke as part of the district’s speaking series.

An American runner and former American marathon record holder, Rodgers is best known for his victories in the Boston Marathon and the New York City Marathon in the late 1970s.

“The gentleman I’m going to bring up in just a minute is the fastest American to run a marathon,” WCS Superintendent Dr. David Hoffert said in introducing Rodgers.

Rodgers said he didn’t start out planning to be a runner.

“I wanted to be a naturalist,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to do.”

Rodgers started running in high school when he was 15. He stated he wasn’t running that far and was running the one-mile in gym class.

“I was running one mile, maybe two miles,” he said. He remembers going to the track and running a mile around it.

He didn’t initially see the competition in running.

“Growing up, for me, running was running with your friends,” he said.

It wasn’t until college that he started thinking about marathons.

During college, Rodgers started smoking. In order to quit, he ended going to the YMCA.

Hoffert tried to explain to the fifth-graders the distance of a marathon by telling them Rodgers was able to run from Warsaw to the other side of Plymouth or Columbia City, or four miles past Goshen.

Rodgers also talked about the ups and downs of competing.

“Nobody wins forever,” he said.

He dropped out of eight marathons. He also lost some marathons.

“When I lost, I wasn’t too happy, but I tried,” he said.

Rodgers also made the Olympic team, once in 1976. However, when he made it to Montreal for the Olympics, he ran the worst race of his life. His legs were cramping up, but he said he needed to finish the race.

Hoffert said Rodgers made the 1980 team, but Rodgers wasn’t able to participate because the U.S. didn’t go. The U.S. boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow due to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.

Rodgers also saw some changes in marathon running.

“It was an amateur sport. Now it’s a professional sport,” he said. When he first started, the winners would get a gold medal, but wouldn’t get any monetary reward.

When Rodgers first started running marathons, women were excluded from running them. It was due to the thought it would affect women’s health in areas like childbirth.

“All of us guy runners knew better. We knew the rules were backward,” he said.

However, Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon in 1967. Switzer was before Rodgers’ time.

The rules pertaining to allowing women to run in marathons changed in 1972.

Rodgers said humans are meant to move.

“We’re meant to be athletes,” he said. It’s just about finding the right sport, whether it’s basketball or walking.

“I love being a runner, a racer,” he said.

Rodgers’ speech ended with Hoffert and Rodgers running a mile with the fifth-graders.

Rodgers also participated in a running clinic with distance runners at the high school Wednesday.