So we drove down to an old minor league ballpark in Kokomo on Saturday for Norwell’s semistate baseball game, and my dad thought the guy selling tickets looked familiar.
“Who are you?” he asked, with exactly as much tact as it sounds. “Are you a runner?”
Turns out the ticket-taker was a guy he’d recognized as a longtime runner in the Swiss Days Race, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. “I’ll be there again this year,” the guy said. “I’ve already got my application.”
Hard to believe it’s been four decades since Dad and his old running buddy Jack Shoaff talked the First Bank of Berne into sponsoring the race that’s become synonymous with the bank.
“We probably had 20-25 runners that first year,” Dad said. It started out as a 3-mile race that began right outside the bank’s doors. Then they added a 10-mile race, then a 1-mile kids’ race. Finally they went to the current 5K format, though they still run the kids’ race. Now hundreds of runners show up every year — many of them from much farther away than Kokomo.
“I recognized that guy immediately, though I couldn’t place him right away,” Dad said as we wandered off to find seats. “He’s always the first one to show up every year.”
Later, we’d look him up in the results. His name’s Mark Shorter, and he won the 60-69 age group last year with a time of 24:07. (He’d run a bit faster the year before, but didn’t place as high because he was in a younger age group. Ah, the beauty of age-group racing.)
As we settled in to watch the ballgame, somebody else caught Dad’s attention: a plus-sized female fan with encouraging, if ear-splitting, words of advice and pet nicknames for each Norwell player.
“Who is that?” he asked.
“That,” I said, “is another one of your Swiss Days runners.”
I recognized her from adult lap swim, though I didn’t know her name. According to Ben, she’s Norwell’s No. 1 fan. Goes to all the varsity games. But I knew her as a lady who‘d lost a lot of weight running and swimming, though she still had quite a ways to go. I remembered her saying she was training for last summer‘s Swiss Days Race.
Sure enough, she made it to the finish line last summer — with the same kind of gutsy resolve that Norwell’s baseball team showed Saturday, refusing to get psyched out by a bad call or a wasted opportunity.
After Saturday’s 5-2 win over Western, the Knights will play for a state championship next weekend.
As for Norwell’s No. 1 fan, I don’t know if she’ll be back at Swiss Days this year or not. But I did pass her on the Greenway the other day, toiling away in the hot afternoon sun.