The slide had a great run.

After seven years at 10 McClellan Boulevard, the water slide now is retired from the Quad-City Times Bix 7 course.

If the hundreds of runners who stopped, dropped and slid Saturday had known it would be their last ride on the grass, many surely would have protested. But the decision has been made.

"It’s a lot of work and expense," said co-creator of the slide, Matt Willaert. "We weren’t going to do it this year, but we got strong-armed by our children. Now, our kids are leaving the nest. It's time to be done. People have been very appreciative, but the slide has run its course — pun intended."

Since 2010, with the exception of one year's absence, the Willaerts' slide has been a tradition for Bix 7 runners.

As thousands of them reached the turnaround at McClellan, they darted off course and made a run for the long stairway up to the Willaerts' house.

From atop the steep front-yard slope, Matt Willaert attends the garden hose, dampening runners to quicken their descent.

"Feet first, feet up!" he instructed nearly every runner taking the ride down eight connected Bonzai brand slides. At the bottom of the roughly 140-foot slide, a newcomer to the Willaerts' "Pit Crew" provided backup for the hay bales that annually spare runners the road rash, or worse, that would otherwise result.

Trey Adkins is a walk-on for the Iowa Hawkeyes football team and is a friend of Patrick Willaert's. On Saturday, he was the primary blocker for runners who hit the bales too fast.

When it was all over, Adkins took his turn on the hill, followed by Patrick Willaert.

"The first year it was just us," Patrick said. "A couple people asked if they could do it, too, and this happened."

Since then, the slide has been as much work as play. Patrick has spent so much time on the Pit Crew, he navigates the soaking wet hill with the sure-footedness of a mountain goat. When a runner's glasses fell off his face, Patrick threw himself onto the slide, snatched the glasses with one hand, and landed alongside the runner at the bottom — handing over the glasses before the runner had time to get to his feet.

When a tear appeared in one of the slides, about halfway down the hill, Patrick signaled to his dad for a break in the action. Within 30 seconds, the Crew had replaced the damaged section, and rides resumed.

Then, another short break in the action.

"Everybody wait up!" Matt Willaert shouted. "Military coming through!"

Runners in uniform are permitted to cut in the ride line. They also get to bypass some of the rules. While the other runners are required to go down one at a time and must wait for the slide to clear, military personnel can do as they please.

"Want to go together?" Matt asked a pair of soldiers. "VIPs can do whatever the hell they want. You've earned it. Thanks for all you do."

And down they shot — head first — with the dozens of runners in the waiting line whistling and applauding wildly.

Also a crowd pleaser was a runner dressed in a T-Rex costume. Fortunately, Quad-City Times photographer Andy Abeyta was slide side, so I don't have to try to describe what that looked like.

"I tried one time to get a record of where people were from," said Kelly Willaert, Matt's wife. "I gave up after a couple hundred."

Asked whether she'll miss the slide, Kelly paused for several seconds before replying, "Maybe a little."

The McCllellan slide has produced great memories for countless Bix runners. The Willaerts' investments in money and time have been greatly appreciated, and their slide undoubtedly will be missed.

But it's been seven glorious years along the Bix 7 course. And what a finish.

Contact Barb Ickes at 563-383-2316 or bickes@qctimes.com

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