Two weeks ago, I promised a post about an inspiring couple who ran the same 100-mile race as my husband. Today, I’m excited to introduce you to Bill and Sally Squier. Theirs is a story of endurance – in love and in running. Theirs is also a story of inspiration and encouragement.
I’m not completely sure, but if I had to guess, I would bet that I first met Bill and Sally out in the woods at the headquarters aid station for this 100-mile race, an aid station that bears her name: Sally’s Asylum. My husband volunteered at the aid station before he and I ever met, and he has also paced runners, including Sally, as they ran toward their 100-mile finish.
Once we were married, I wanted to come out and meet all these crazy runners and fill water bottles and hand out food, too. I didn’t want to miss out on all the fun he was having in the dark middle of the night in the woods. We would joke and laugh with Sally and watch for Bill, who was usually running the race.
The first thing you notice about Sally is her smile. It’s warm and genuine and infectious, and I think that’s just one of the reasons so many people want to be around her. She’ll probably give you a hug, and if you’re at the aid station, she’ll put you to work. But then she’ll start asking you about your own running.
Sally is probably the one I have to thank (blame?) the most for my husband deciding to run the 100 miler. If I ever run even a 50 miler – which, Sally, I tell you in all seriousness I have no desire to do – I’ll be able to thank (blame?) her for putting the idea in my head in the first place.
Bill usually has a smile on his face, too, but if you watch closely, you’ll see him light up even more when he sees his beautiful bride Sally. This year, they became the oldest married couple to finish the 100 miler, at 70 years old. They’re likely the longest married to run the race, too.
Two runners, true love
Bill and Sally were in the Navy when they married on Christmas day more than 51 years ago. That was when they could both get leave, and so they headed to a one-room country church in her hometown to get married in the snow.
They weren’t runners when they first married, and I’m not sure they could have envisioned the miles they would travel together. After four children came along, and because Bill’s father died young of a heart attack, Bill started running. Sally started running sometime the next year.
Between them, they have run 14 100-mile races (Bill has run 9 and Sally 5) and countless other shorter races. They’ve also logged countless volunteer hours at races, one of the reasons so many runners in our local running community know them so well.
It always lifts my spirits to see them at a water stop or turn on the course, cheering and clapping and smiling as runners zip past. They could be running those races, but they know how important volunteering is to create a great racing experience, too.
When I asked Sally what she loves most about running, especially long races, here’s what she told me:
I love being out in nature, and spending hours on the trails. I don’t like short races, because you are in a big hurry, and nobody wants to talk – it is strictly a competition. Ultras are more laid back: runners encourage each other, and will run and talk with you a while. After about five or six miles, I get in a zone, and the running becomes automatic. I start looking around at the trees and the sky, and I do my best thinking then. I think about my ancestors, and how no other female in my family has ever done anything like this, and I can feel my mother and her sister smiling down on me. For me, it’s better than being in church, as it is where I feel the closest to God.
I think many long-distance runners have a similar story and a deep connection between running and their faith.
The encouragement among ultra runners is what stands out most in my mind from this most recent 100 miler. They would cheer and clap for each other early on and more quietly encourage one another in the wee hours of the morning when exhaustion set in. Any time I saw Sally come through the to the aid station, she’d always ask about my husband or tell me how proud she was of how well he was running.
Love at the finish
Sally and Bill are not selfish runners, and that’s what makes them so beloved. I don’t know if I can do justice to Sally’s finish this year, just under the 30-hour cut off. But let me set the scene for you and then show you in pictures.
My husband and I had headed home after his finish for showers and what can, at best, be described as a nap. We woke up wanting to stay curled under the covers, but we knew we could make it out to see Sally finish, even though Bill was likely already done.
When we arrived, there was a small crowd gathered around the finish area, and just next to the timing tent, sat Bill. He had finished more than an hour and a half earlier, but he wanted to wait up for Sally. He had a chair and a blanket and plenty of folks coming by to check on whether he needed anything, but he kept his gaze down through the line of trees, waiting to see Sally coming toward the finish.
Several folks untied the “Sally’s Asylum” banner from the aid station to hold it up at the finish where Sally would see it from a distance.
We got word that Sally was close, and that’s when Bill stood up.
She reached the finish line with her signature smile, which was good, because I think all the rest of us were crying, so amazed by what she and Bill had accomplished together.
So here is this amazing couple, exhausted and spent from a 100-mile race, but they both had time to encourage others and give out more hugs. Sally lit up when she saw my husband, and she told him how proud she was of him.
A running legacy
My dad is a retired math professor, and he occasionally talks about his mathematical genealogy, the advisors who came before him and the Ph.D. students of his that are considered his descendants, his legacy. There’s even a web site that tracks this genealogy.
You saw Sally’s quote earlier that she thinks of her ancestors as she’s out running and considers the fact that no other women in her family have done what she has done. If there’s ever an ultra running genealogy project, my husband and many others could consider Sally and Bill their “parents” of ultra running. And some day, I can envision a flourishing family tree of runners who will be able to trace their running inspiration back to this grand couple of the running world.
Running as long as they can
I saw Bill and Sally later that week at packet pick up for a half marathon we were running (yes, they both ran a half marathon a week after finishing the 100-mile race, and yes, they ran it wearing their 100-mile race shirts.). More smiles, encouragement, sharing of war stories.
Right before the race on Sunday, Bill joked with me as we stood in side-by-side lines for the too few port-o-potties: “This is the real race.” If you’ve run 100-mile races as many times as he has, I think you become more relaxed about all of it, and a long port-o-potty line just doesn’t seem like that big a deal.
Those of you who don’t run may say we’re all crazy, but I wonder if the opposite isn’t true. Maybe running is what keeps some of us sane and keeps us together. Sally herself will tell you:
Running is a great cleansing tool and better than any psychiatrist. When Bill and I don’t run for a while, we tend to get depressed. So I think we need it for both mind and body. We both hope to run as long as we can.
Bill and Sally, we hope that for you, too. May you run as long as you can.