82-year-old Columbia Falls man hopes his run will be an inspiration

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) – Three days before William “Bill” Anderson married his high school sweetheart in the summer of 1960, he lined up at the start line of a race in Missoula.

It wasn’t just any race – Anderson, who had just finished a college track career, was lined up next to a horse and planned to run from Missoula to Polson, ideally covering the distance faster on two legs than its equine competitors would do it out of four.

“In fact, seventy-two miles is not a long distance for a man,” Anderson told a reporter in the sports news department at the University of Montana (then Montana State). “But I seriously doubt the horse can finish.”

Anderson estimated he would complete the 72 miles in 10-12 hours.

“I understand it that way. I will probably be way behind the field for the first 30 miles, but I will gradually catch up and probably pass the horses between St. Ignatius and Ronan, ”he told the reporter. “Then I’ll have to open up a lead of about four miles to make up for the final kick – if they have one. “

The race started at 6 a.m. on June 16 with Anderson competing against two horses ridden by residents of Polson. His support team at the time consisted of his parents and future wife Karen, as well as his coach and varsity coach, who were on their way to a conference in Spokane when they remembered his insane feat was in. course and turned off the Highway.

“I went up Emerald Hill all the way outside of Ravalli and I was really struggling with leg cramps and knots in my calves,” Anderson recalls recently.

Anderson took a break just past the 32 mile mark, lying in the back of a station wagon while the coach tried to relax his legs, but alas, it was decided he should retire from the race. .

“I got back in the car, didn’t change at all and had bandages on my legs and we went to the county courthouse and got our marriage license,” Anderson told the Flathead Beacon. “At our wedding, someone asked, ‘Why on earth would you run 30 miles a few days before your honeymoon?’… And yes, that was a mistake. I got some notoriety for it that I didn’t deserve because it wasn’t a success.

Anderson, now 82, doesn’t like to talk about himself or his accomplishments, of which there are many. As a high school athlete he was a two-time finalist in the state track and field competition, in college he held the school record in the 880-yard run (1: 53.3 ), and he ran his first marathon at the age of 51, followed by 35 more (so far.)

What Anderson will easily talk about, however, is his time on the other side of the clock.

After college, after running a horse, after his marriage and stint in the United States Army, the Andersons returned to Montana so he could teach history and train at Westby School, to little near as far as possible to the northeast without leaving the state. .

“If you were sitting on a bleacher and looking north, you were just looking at Canada,” Anderson joked. “The first thing the superintendent said to me when I arrived on a Friday was, ‘Football practice starts on Monday, and you’ll be driving the bus.'”

This launched an almost 50-year career in education, which culminated in 2010, when Anderson retired as deputy principal of Columbia Falls Junior High School.

“I always tell kids, when I’ve been asked to come in and talk about education, that you shouldn’t plan to go to Kalispell or Missoula or Polson after college,” Anderson said. “You have to go to a little place where you learn to drive a bus, you learn to do a basketball court or a track with almost anything.”

In addition to teaching, driving the bus, and coaching soccer, Anderson also coached the basketball and track teams.

“I built the first track they’ve ever had,” Anderson said. “I had a guy with a tractor and an old rasp that the city had and we planted a fifth of a mile of track behind the playing field and it held the first track meet ever in that part of the country.”

When it was too cold to run outside, Anderson also did an indoor track. He took a 100-foot hose and stretched it inside the gym, and added diagonal straights and two hurdles to set up meetings.

His career as a coach and teacher spanned five decades – from Westby to Scobey to Libby at Flathead Valley Community College and eventually to Columbia Falls, where he worked as an administrator in high school and college. In Scobey, he also initiated the track and field and cross country programs and hosted the first unofficial state meet there.

Anderson didn’t give up in the course of his career – moving from the classroom to athletic fields at ROTC at home – something he learned during the high school track competition where he finished runner-up. , being surprised just at the line.

“I don’t think I ever gave up at the finish line again,” said Anderson. “Or anywhere else.”

At the end of May, Anderson ran the Whitefish Half Marathon, finishing in 2 hours and 12 minutes, just off the age group record he set in 2019. Two weeks later, he was running at the Herron 5K again. , finishing in the top 20.

“I was once told the movement was a lotion, and I see people my age and younger complaining about their knees – mine go on and on,” he said. “I was fortunate to be relatively injury free, and I have nothing to attribute that to.”

The most important thing, however, is not just to be able to keep running, but to have an impact on those encounters with Anderson while you’re there.

“Sometimes we see running as a way to end… get the direct benefits of your exhaustive training miles,” he said. “But whether it’s the neighbor who sees you going out for a run, a car blowing by with a horn, a cyclist going out, an elderly walker, or maybe a person with reduced mobility, you inspire. I think this is our real reward.

Last month Anderson celebrated his 61st wedding anniversary with Karen, as well as the 61st anniversary of his ill-fated attempt to run to Polson. Even after all this time, it still annoys him that he’s never finished.

“I still think every year would be a good year to do an anniversary run, take three or four days and run from Missoula to Polson,” he said. “It’s still on my agenda.”

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