1968 Wo-Zha-Wa Run
The original Wo-Zha-Wa Run was sponsored by the Wisconsin Dells Jaycees and held on Sunday, September 22, 1968, and started at the intersection of 127 and Hwy 16 in Portage. This is now the entrance to the prison facility. The event was part of a new festival in the Dells. Bud Gussel's signature is on the certificate given to finishers so he was probably the first race director. I believe the entry fee was a dollar. I read about the run in a local paper. The race followed the entire length of Hwy 127 to its end at Hwy 16 near the Dells. There was a small park between the intersection of WD and 16 and that was the finish line. The race was billed as 16 miles but it was really more like 15 1/5. Back then 'close enough' was good enough.
There were 44 runners at the start and 33 of those finished. A copy of the starting line photo that appeared in the Portage Register on Monday, September 23rd appears below. 10 runners were from the Milwaukee Track Club (now Badgerland Striders) including John Archer and Dr. Knud Stobbe. I think Clark Nelson was there too.
Dr William Anberg of Minneapolis entered and I believe he finished 4th. Dr. Andberg owned most of the national records for runners over 50 years old. Of course I had no idea who he was and when I saw this little 'old' guy get out of his car I figured I might be able to beat him. I guessed he was in the 'handicap' division. The race had a handicap division where one minute was taken off your time for every year in age you were over or under 20. No help to me as I was exactly 20 years old that year. I think this was only done the first year. Andberg passed me in the first mile and I never saw him again. Lesson learned.
This was my first run of over four miles and I had no idea of what to expect. In the starting line photo I'm the one at the far left. Yes, those are black high top sneakers I'm wearing. I was working on our farm at the time and I got out of milking that morning but didn't tell my folks where I was going. Back then runners were considered pretty strange so I didn't want them to know what I was up to, especially if I didn't finish. My cousin Gary came along and he drove my 63 Thunderbird along the course and marked out about every mile or so.
A local Dells restaurant offered a steak dinner to anyone from the Dells who finished so there were a number of Dells runners including Bud Gussel who was the race director the first year. His brother, Tom, also ran and finished 12th or 13th.
I finished 11th out of the 33 finishers and beat half of the Milwaukee Track Club members which I felt pretty good about. My time was 2 hrs, 2 minutes. They gave out certificates that year and a copy of mine is below.
I remember John Archer and some of the other Milwaukee runners talking to me after the race and advising me to ditch the sneakers and get real running shoes. There was this company called Adidas that they recommended. John also recommended a new magazine called Runners World. Within a month I had my first pair of Adidas Rom's and a subscription to the magazine.
Having never run that far before I had no idea what effect it would have on my body. I hurt so much that I could barely walk and had to take steps one at a time for the next two weeks. To drive our truck on the farm I had to literally pick my leg up and push down on my knee with my hand to engage the clutch.
But I finished. Man, what a rush. I was hooked on Wo-Zha-Wa for life.