Up on the hill!
It's a race! It's a reunion! It's a community celebration!
As 12,606 runners and walkers took to Davenport's Brady Street hill shortly after 8 a.m. Saturday, the 43rd annual Quad-City Times Bix 7 road race proved to be all of those things.
The coolish weather — 68 degrees under sunny skies — produced plenty of smiles among participants and the thousands of people lining the course.
With the low temp, 73 percent humidity and a dew point of 59 — not yet in the sticky range — there weren't any big heat issues in the medical tent. Only 22 people were treated, and none was transported from there to hospitals.
Race crowd favorite Joy Ripslinger, the Assumption High School running standout, succeeded in beating the elite runners with her 2.25-mile head start. She flew through the course to win the Isle Casino Beat the Elite event that comes with $2,500 prize money that she will donate to charity.
Another crowd favorite, Joan Benoit Samuelson, running this year for the first time in the women's 60-and-over age category, didn't just beat the course record, she obliterated it, finishing five minutes and 52 seconds faster than another woman her age. She also won the women's masters (40 and over) for the 15th time.
Not to be overlooked — four men, one in his 60s and the rest in their 70s — participated in the seven-mile race for the 43rd time in a row, a distinction held by only those four. They are Ed Lillis, 71, of Rock Island; Don Fish, 67, of Davenport; Gary Fischer, 75, of Iowa City; and Steve Clark, 70, of Chicago's western suburbs.
Costumes included the ever-popular Palmer College of Chiropractic spine, a half dozen Marilyn Monroes, Elvis, a penguin and Batman. Several groups hiked in military gear, including backpacks, and a family of three affixed "fidget spinners" to their chests.
Among those cheering them on was the 7th and Brady St. Gang, a group of 25 to 30 relatives, headed by Sue Bronzino of Davenport, who ran the Bix back in the day. Her family has been staking out the 7th and Brady corner for what they described as "years! years! At least since 1981!"
With members visiting from Wisconsin, Michigan, Tennessee and various other points, the family donned leis, sipped mimosas and cheered runners with air horns.
Another extended family set up a row of six identical white plastic lawn chairs on the sidewalk a block south. "It's a tradition for us," said Peg Hammes, Davenport. "Whoever is in town is either here or running the race."
Musicians added toe-tapping pep. Staking out a spot along the Swiss Valley Farms Quick Bix route were the Locust Street Boys, "plus one."
The group consisted mainly of men with the last name of VanSpeybroeck — John, of Rock Island, on the alto sax; Mike, of Davenport, on the soprano sax; and Jim, of East Moline, on the banjo. Rounding out the group were Joe Heinrichs of Davenport, on the tuba, and Elizabeth VanSpeybroeck, 13, on the güiro, a percussion instrument that looks liked a ribbed rolling pin that is played by drawing a stick across the ribs.
Among those running for the first time was Kelly Leonard, 50, a high school math teacher living in McAllen, Texas.
She and her husband, Chris, a college art teacher, made the 24-hour (or so) drive to the Quad-Cities just for the race. They don't even have relatives in the area. But Chris, who had run the Bix several times in the past, decided he wanted to do it again for "old times' sake," and Kelly joined him.
Because their part of Texas is totally flat, she trained for the hills by running up and down the embankment of a highway overpass. It worked.
"The hill that really got to me was the one after the turnaround because I wasn't expecting it," she said. "But that's where the people really helped. There's nothing like Iowa.
"And I was thinking about mile five, I need to do this again now that I've got it figured out."
Stephen Bowser, 27, of Cedar Falls, Iowa, was back for his second Bix, running barefoot, as last year. Bowser is a dedicated runner, having completed the Boston Marathon in April. He switched to running mostly barefoot (except in winter) about six years ago as the way humans were intended to run.
"Bearfoot Bowser" said he has learned to anticipate where his feet will fall so as to avoid rocks or broken glass and that the heat of the pavement really isn't noticeable.
"It was a good time," he said of the race that he finished in under 44 minutes.
Pre-race ceremonies included Jack Carey singing "God Bless the USA" and the national anthem, with two airplanes flying above the crowd to honor military men and women. Quad-City Times Publisher Deb Anselm fired the starting gun.
Kirkwood Boulevard was spruced up with new plantings of flowers, including a bed at Iowa Street that's been watered for the past several weeks by U.S. Postal Service letter carrier Janette Tice, who brought liter-sized water bottles to the site after work.
At the post-race party, a line formed quickly for the 4,000 Chick-fil-A sandwiches given out, a clear favorite. Also high on the favorite list: 9,600 cans of Michelob Ultra beer, Whitey's popsicles, grapes and other treats.
By noon, the streets were cleaned up and back open. The community celebration was over for another year.
See you again July 28, 2018.