D6 THE SUNDAY SUN, LOWELL, MASS., OCT. 30, 1977

Lowell's Hodge eyes 1984 Olympics

 

By CHARLES SCOGGINS Jr.
Sun Staff

LOWELL - What makes Bobby run?

You've seen him running along Bridge Street in the sweltering August heat. You've seen him running down Andover Street beneath the billowing trees and their kaleidoscope of colorful leaves in October. You've seen him circling the Hunt's Falls rotary and crossing the bridge over the Merrimack in the icy winds of January, You've sepn him running past the lush green carpet of North Common in May.

Running, running, forever running. Day after day, every day, all year long. Year after year after year.

WHAT MAKES Bobby run?

Bob Hodge just might be the best distance runner to ever come out of Lowell. And only 22, the small, slight Hodge's best years are still in front of him. His ultimate goal is to run the marathon for the United States in the 1984 Olympics.

But that is still seven long years hence, and a lot can happen in seven years. There is no guarantee whatsoever that Bob Hodge will attain that lofty goal.

So what makes Bobby run?

John Lang, the Lowell High track coach, remembered when he first set eyes upon Bob Hodge some eight years ago. "As a freshman," Lang mused, "he was nothing outstanding, Just a skinny little kid who was trying to be a runner. But he loved running; that is all he wanted to do.

''He didn't really come on until his junior year. Then he started to blossom. He was third in the All-State cross country meet his senior year, won the Class A two-mile outdoors in a superb 9:17 - for which he never got the credit he should have - and ran a 4:26 indoor mile. In my coaching career, he was the best distance runner I ever had."

BUT WHAT makes Bobby run?

"I don't know," Lang said frankly. "Not many people know about it, but he had a brother who was a real decent runner - it was before my time - and he was killed in Vietnam. Possibly he wanted to follow in his brother's footsteps. I donít know."

 

Lowell High Athletic Director Al Mangan, an Olympic walker in the 1936 Games, remembered Bobís bother, Ray, as "a better high school runner than Bobby."

 

But whatever is Bob Hodgeís compulsion, he has made some impressive conquests during his relatively brief career as a distance runner. As he matures and gains experience in the next few years, barring some sort of calamity, he is likely to join the world's elite class of distance runners.

AS A COLLEGIAN at the University of Lowell, Hodge won All-American honors and in the NCAA cross country championships in Texas as a junior finished in the top 20, and was the sixth native American to finish.

Hodge also won the grueling Mt. Washington race for the first time, and he repeated the feat in record-smashing time early last summer, running unbelievable eight-minute miles up the steep eight-mile course. To give you an idea of just how incredible that achievement is, you can get a bumper sticker for your car at the summit which proudly boasts: This car climbed Mt. Washington. It is a race which requires such stamina, most of the world class runners avoid it.

Hodge had planned for that to be his last race for a year. He took a vacation from competitive running and took a cross country motor trip, visiting national parks and finally ending up in the state of Washington, where he was looking for work when he was invited to compete in the first Labattís Freddom Trail Eight Mile Road Race in Boston earlier this month. That he is gaining a reputation as an excellent runner is borne out by the fact that the sponsors paid for his plane fare from Washington to Boston,

Hodge finished sixth in the race behind the likes of Bill Rodgers and Jerome Drayton, but in front of the likes of former Olympic Gold Medalist Frank Shorter, who was 23rd. Hodge's sixth-place finish was actually somewhat remarkable.

 

"WHEN THEY decided fly me back, I was kind hesitant because I didn't know what kind of shape I was in" Hodge explained. "When we were travelling, my training went way down, so I was surprised to finish where I did."

 

What constituted no training? "I was satisfied to do 80 miles a week."

Running eighty miles week just for the fun of it! What makes Bobby run?

"I love it," he said simply "You're only talking about three hours a day."

ONLY three hours a day? Why? Unless you are among the infinitesimal elite runners of the world, who can make something approximating comfortable living endorsing track shoes and warm-up suits, the rewards have to be aesthetic. And who does anything for aesthetic rewards in this day and age of million dollar professional athletes?

"The only reason you can't justify running is you don't get paid for it," Hodge said. "You might get a free pair of shoes from a company or, a bowl of beef stew at the end of the Boston Marathon, and that's about it. But I love it."

FOLLOWING the Freedom Trail race, Hodge planned spend a few weeks around Lowell, then head back Washington. He'll return the spring and start train seriously for the 10,000 meters. The reason he plans to run that distance is to try and build speed, which he feels is lacking. Hodge doesnít plan to make a name for himself at that distance; it is only a stepping stone toward the 1984 Olympic marathon.

"My ultimate goal is not 1980 Olympics but the 1984 Games," Bobby said. "Iíll have seven years of training by then. It's a step-by-step process, and most distance runners donít peak until they're around 30, so I still have plenty of time."

So for the next seven years Bob Hodge will continue run in the sweltering August heat, beneath failing leaves in October, through icy winds in January, and past greening parks in May, looking toward a far-off goal of running 26 miles and 385 yards faster than anybody else in the world when the vast majority of us canít Ė or wonít Ė look beyond next weekís paycheck.

Thatís what makes Bobby run.

"But," he said, "if you ever told me in my freshman year of high school I would be doing this, or even running in a marathon, I would have said you were crazy."

Hodge runs with the best

Bob Hodge (arrow), former Lowell High track and cross-country star and ex-U. Lowell All-American distance runner, is shown right in the thick of contention during the recent Labatt's Freedom Trail eight-mile road race in Boston. Eventual winner Bill Rodgers (3), Randy Thomas (14) and Jerome Drayton (1) are among those ahead of Hodge in the above photo. Bob was running in classy company, as both Rodgers and Drayton are Boston Marathon champions. The 22-year-old Hodge finished sixth in the race.

(Sun Staff photo by Pollock)


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