Over the past couple of years, Michelle Juehring has taken a crash course in what it takes to put on a major road race with three or four days of activities, 15,000 participants, 150 committees, 5,000 volunteers, elite runners from around the world and sometimes as many as 50,000 spectators.
She has been training to replace Ed Froehlich, who is stepping down after 40 years as the director of the Quad-City Times Bix 7, and it has given her a clear idea of the demanding job into which she is stepping.
“People say ‘Is this a full-time job?’ and I just kind of laugh,’’ said Juehring, who laughs and smiles more than most people. “It is, but it’s a labor of love. It’s a job, but it’s a job we love doing.’’
Juehring, a 52-year-old mother of two, has trained under Froehlich for the better part of two years. She has followed him everywhere, asked questions, picked his brain, tried to analyze what has made him among the most respected race directors in the country.
Laura Torgerud has been doing the same thing with the Bix 7’s operations director, Ellen Hermiston.
In the months leading up to Saturday’s 45th annual race, Froehlich and Hermiston have pretty much stepped back and allowed Juehring and Torgerud to fly on their own.
They haven’t crashed.
“Ed and Ellen are not too far away should we have a question or concern,’’ Juehring said. “It’s kind of baptism by fire.’’
Juehring has found that in some ways, the Bix 7 operates pretty much on automatic pilot anyway.
Froehlich’s methodology always has been to train people thoroughly, lay out expectations, and then turn them loose. And trust them.
It works well but inevitably there are times when things don’t quite go according to plan.
“There’s a book to follow so to speak but there’s also things that come at you,’’ Juehring said. “So we have what I call the athletic stance. We have our knees bent and our hands up and we’re ready for whatever comes our way.’’
She said this year’s race has been a unique challenge because the two people most responsible for its recent success are only halfway out the door.
Juehring and Torgerud have had to do a balancing act between the “minutia’’ involved with this year’s race while also looking at the big picture while trying to make this a celebration of Ed and Ellen’s final year while also looking ahead and visualizing what things will look like in the future.
“So it’s been kind of a juggle,’’ Juehring said. “Our minds are constantly going from short term, long term, short term, long term.’’
Short term, you can expect Saturday’s race to look very much like the ones that came before it.
Long-term, you can expect the Bix 7 to do more to embrace technology and social media, things that didn’t even exist when Froehlich first took the reins of this thing in 1980.
“I’d be naive to think that some things won’t change just due to technology or the nature of the race itself …’’ Juehring said. “The foundation of this race to get to where it is — 45 years — is great but you can’t just rest on your laurels. It’s not going to happen.’’
She admitted that Froehlich sometimes was resistant to technological advances such as chip timing and online registration. Juehring, as an assistant race director, was among those in the background lobbying to embrace more modern methods.
But she said she never faulted Froehlich for exercising caution in those areas.
“If anything, I applaud him for being careful and not taking risks with things he’s not completely comfortable with,’’ she said.
The one thing she knows for sure is that she has an extremely tough act to follow.
Froehlich has come to be admired and respected by other race directors across the country. And Juehring got a glimpse at last year’s race of how Ed is viewed locally.
She had been shadowing Froehlich everywhere he went on race day, watching what he did, and as things were winding down, she followed him into the post-race party in the Times’ parking lot.
Froehlich really wanted to keep a low profile and just sort of observe what was happening, but people kept coming up to him, shaking his hand, thanking him, wanting to have their photos taken with him.
“That gave me a really good feeling,’’ Juehring said.
It also gave her an idea of how high the bar has been set.
But she is going to do just fine. Probably better than fine.
Juehring has the right personality and almost the perfect background to handle this. She is a former athlete who was employed in marketing for many years, has served as the director of children’s ministries at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport and she has leadership in her blood. Her father was a school superintendent in Onalaska, Wisconsin.
And she’s had two years to learn from the master.