O Captain! My Captain!

A cautionary tale about a completely unsolicited rise to power among the OWies

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Paul Oppenheim

Running Columnist

I've occasionally mentioned our community's other running group, the Oak-William Runners (the OWies), and I've been doing their 5:30 a.m. Tuesday/Thursday runs for years. They, of course, meet at the corner of Oak and William in River Forest. But I almost never participated in their Saturday morning runs, instead doing the Oak Park Runners Club's Saturday fun runs. So I was in effect only a part-time OWie. Until recently.

The group traces its roots to 1968 when former Oak Park and River Forest High School Superintendent, Don Offermann, was the Huskies' track coach. He and his team ran between the school and track practice at Concordia College during track season. In 1968 team member Rich Brooks and Coach Offermann continued their runs during the rest of the year, starting at that Oak/William corner. So they claim the group's origins from that time.

More recently, with advancing age and ongoing knee problems, I've slowed considerably, so Offermann and I usually are the two old guys at the back of the pack. Typically, the younger runners have designated intersections where they stop and wait for us to catch up, then resuming the regular route. Incidentally, our conversations at the back of the pack are more interesting and on a much higher plane than those up front, but there is also a certain degree of guilt which has crept into the picture. On mornings when I might prefer to remain in the sack, I'll think that Don would then be running by himself, so I drag myself over to River Forest. Guilt, and I'm not even Catholic. And failure to show up tends to invite email harassment from other members.

Then about a month ago, I skipped one of the Saturday runs. I forget the details, but as I recall, I wasn't feeling well, and it was drizzling outside, so I said the hell with it. Later that day an email popped up from the OWies, originated by Don Jensen (the esteemed Dr. Donald Jensen, otherwise known as Sven), stating that I had been voted "Captain-Elect for 2015." What!? I wasn't even there to object! But that's apparently how it works -- they stick it to you when you're down. That damn Jensen!

In fact, Captain of the OWies doesn't involve too much responsibility since they have no regular meetings, newsletter or dues. As I understand things, the Captain selects the forest preserve trail route for Saturdays, and schedules an annual party. But since I'm at the tail end of the group and don't like to get my shoes dirty, I may delegate the choice of trail routes to those in front, while I stay on more stable pavement that's easier on my knee.

For many years I was President of the Oak Park Runners Club (and am still an active member). Now that I have the dubious honor to also be Captain of the OWies, I think that's a first. Wonder if it would look good on my resume -- or in my obituary?

Paul Oppenheim is a member of the OWies and of the Oak Park Runners Club.

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