Runner Profiles by Bob Slowpants


John Johnson - Run to Lose Weight or Lose Weight to Run

John is from Theodore, Alabama, south of Mobile.  Any further south and you will be in Mobile Bay!  John followed the south Alabama herd to Auburn University after graduating from Theodore High School in 1981.  His Facebook page acknowledges that he “studied but couldn’t concentrate at Auburn University”.  John refers to the term “freshman 15” to describe the weight many collegian’s gain their first academic year.  John must have accidently enrolled in the agricultural studies program as he gained fifty pounds to a weight of 275 pounds.  He was deemed ready for market.  John dieted and lost forty pounds dining on the left-over prison food served in the university food service facility.

John found it more difficult to eat healthy the first summer quarter on campus.  He elected to run to supplement his diet.  He did not want to run on the track where the “real runners” were, so he elected to run inside the Auburn University Basketball coliseum.  As opposed to the campus streets, John has less risk in the day of pre-GPS watches of getting lost running in circles.  Six laps around was a mile, and he gradually increased to three miles a day without getting bored.  The three miles was a determined length based on a response from a fraternity brother to John’s inquiry about how far he ran.  The response must have made a significant impression on John as three miles has become his preferred distance for now over thirty years and counting.  John laments if the response had been five miles, “he would probably be a much better runner today!”      

John’s weight was down to 195 pound his sophomore year when he left the “lovely plains of Auburn” for the U.S. Air Force.  John was eight years short of being a lifer, only remaining in the Air Force for twelve years.  He continued in the Air Force running three four times a week to control his weight.  Now John “loses weight to run”.  John and the Air Force mutually parted career paths in 1995.  John injured his back in 1994 and was advised by the Air Force quack that examined him “to never run again”.  As an aside John’s duties resulted in travel to unusual locations.  His most memorable run was on a trail around a Norwegian Flystation (Norwegian for air base) while on temporary duty in Norway for a month.

The Air Force restored John’s ability to concentrate as he graduated from Georgia College and State University with a B.A. in Management, a second B.A. in Computer Based Information Systems, and a Master in Management Information Systems.  He must have liked Milledgeville as post-graduate John still resides there.  John pursued a career as a Systems Analyst with the Board of Regents, University System of Georgia, and now is a Senior Applications Systems Analyst at his Alma Mater.  

Despite continuous discomfort from his back-injury, John began to run again in 2004 after a nine-year hiatus and has continued running for fourteen years plus.  His first foray back into racing was the 2004 Macon Labor Day 5K, completed in 34:10.  Since that race, John has logged more than two hundred 5K and 10K races, a few half marathons, and one full marathon. John observes he “loves seeing all the people enjoying themselves and running for those age group awards and t-shirts”.  Because John has such a common name, he began to register as “Wheels Johnson”, an Air Force era nickname.  John lived in Athens in the 2012-2013 period and was active in the Athens Road Runners, Run and See Georgia Grand Prix, Black Bag Race Series, and Clover Glove Race series.   John “has met so many good friends out there” that he “could not imagine stopping now!”      

Bob checking out from the back of the pack. Look for the profile of legal wizard Erica Shepley, and Winder’s favorite Clydesdale Mark Polson.


Fran Fussell - Relieving Stress from Flying Low

Fran’s full first name is Francoise, and when used she is often asked if she is French.  The response is yes, and no, si’l vous plait (a quick check on your French vocabulary).  Fran was born in Paris, France.  If the location had been Paris, Tennessee, her parents could have attended the annual Catfish Festival.  Instead her father was an American serviceman stationed in France.  Fran was born in an American hospital in Paris, which is still there!  The family returned to the states in 1951 and, after her father retired from the Army, settled in Beaufort, South Carolina.  Fran shortened her name, so South Carolina natives could pronounce it.

Fran matriculated at the University of South Carolina where she met her future husband Larry.  Fran majored in guess what (Larry and French)?  After graduation she continued her education earning a master’s Degree from Louisiana State University returning to SC in 1970 to marry Larry.  Larry was an Air Force ROTC graduate in the Vietnam era.  After pilot training at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi he flew KC-135 refueling aircraft in support of the Vietnam war.  Post military, Larry was hired as a pilot with Atlanta based Southern Airways as he and Fran migrated to Mableton, GA.  Larry had been running before he and the Air Force parted, and Fran at age thirty begin her running sojourn with short walks/runs.  The family self-migrated to Douglas County and Fran progressed to running 5k races finishing from the back of the pack to “under thirty minutes” finish times closer to the front.

Fran participated in many area races and soon began the time-honored tradition of donating t-shirts to Goodwill as they over accumulate to become the main staple of one’s wardrobe.  One of her favorite races is the Johnson Ferry Baptist Church sponsored Polar Bear 5K, which Fran has run since inception thirty years ago.  Other favorites that Fran has participated in since inception include the Frog Hop 5K and the Jack-O-Lantern Four Miler (now 5K) near Athens.          

Larry in 2004 suffered a heart attack and five years later a stroke.  The family moved to Walhalla, South Carolina.  Fran retired to become a full-time care giver.  Bob recalls Fran commiserating her role with the heart rendering observation that “he would have done the same for me.”  Being the mother of four sons and seven grandchildren, she had hoped that her family would follow in her race shoes.  She has persuaded most of her sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren over the years to participate in races with her.  A keepsake is a photo of Fran and her four sons at the end of a Peachtree Road race, which is framed and prominently displayed in her home. 

Now that Fran has become a full-time care giver, she considers her runs even more important for her physical and mental well-being.  Although involved in civic and charitable activities in Walhalla, the current open border between Georgia and South Carolina facilitates occasional race pilgrimages to North Georgia and the Athens area providing a welcome stress release from her confining role as a care giver.  Fran confides that having recently turned seventy it is “a lot easier to win first in her age group”. She hopes” to continue running up to the end!”

Bob checking out from the back of the pack. Look for the profile of John Johnson, and profile of Winder’s Erica Shepley.


Harold Benton - High Mileage, Some Wear and Tear

Harold was born in Atlanta with a split service personality-mother was in the Navy and father was in the Army.  They met working at the Pentagon, married, downloaded Harold, and got divorced.  A few years later Harold’s mother moved to Albany, GA where she worked at the military base.  In 1964 Harold’s mother was involved in a vehicle accident that broke both her legs and broke Harold’s right leg near the ankle.  Harold worked in Big Star grocery part time while in high school and was the proud owner of a Suzuki motorcycle.  He spent his spare time climbing sand dunes and jumping mini hills with his motor cycle.  

Harold’s first gig after graduation in 1977 was an employee of Procter and Gamble in the Pampers section, (He was not required to wear them).  After a year, Harold fast tracked to clean up in the Bounty section.  Harold left Procter and Gamble seeking a more fluid employment landing in suds at Miller Brewing in 1979.  Harold stayed with Miller Brewing longer than most of us, for thirty-six years.  Persistent Harold graduated from a junior college with an associate degree that he has never used.  

Harold admits to having been married twice.  His second wife Valerie has been married to Harold for twenty-two years.  Harold’s son from his prior marriage, Jacob, is a video game designer residing in Seattle, Washington. Valerie’s son from a prior marriage, Ben, is a pharmacist with the University of Kentucky Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky.  Our society is becoming more multi-general much like our fore fathers.  Harold is no exception as his mother resides with he and Valarie.  Both Harold and Valerie sing in their church choir at First Baptist of Leesburg with Valerie performing many solo numbers. 

Harold disliked running when he was younger, and only started when he left Proctor and Gamble at age twenty-two.  Harold ran his first 10K in 1980 in 48:13. Harold recalls that the entry fee was $3.50! Obviously, Harold has persevered and is now paying higher entry fees.  He placed first in the Run and See Georgia male 55-59 age group in 2017 with over 2,700 points.  His PRs are 5K-16:44, 8K-27.53, 10K-34:32 and half marathon-1.20:32.  Harold’s initial running success was interrupted in 1984 when he broke the sesamoid bones in both feet.  Running was uncomfortable after surgery to correct the injury damage and developed a knot like a golf ball in his right heel.  After consultation with two physicians, Harold ruled out additional surgery and has lived with the discomfort.  Harold alleges that he has slowed down but most of us dispute this allegation.  Harold acknowledges that his biggest accomplishment in 2017 was escaping Rick Hayes’ age group so he could now compete with Roger Keel and Randy Ballew. Bob does not consider this an improvement!  Harold can challenge Roger Keel’s driving mileage record since he travels from Leesburg in south east Georgia to Atlanta and Athens area races each weekend.

Harold’s favorite races are the Macon Labor Day 5K, the Covington Fire House 5K, and the Madison In May and Christmas Rush races in Madison.  Harold adds Roger Keel’s Valley, Alabama races to his list of favorites.  Harold “has met so many wonderful people” and “has traveled all over Georgia” participating in races. Harold confirms that he “has been blessed with good friends with a common interest”.  We are blessed to know Harold!

Bob checking out from the back of the pack. Look for the profile of transplanted Athenian Fran Fussell and profile of John Johnson.


Tammy Miller - An Eye Opener

Tammy was born on Father Day in Anderson, South Carolina.  Her childhood years were in Bowersville, which is in Northeast Georgia, where her mother worked in a textile plant and her father drove a truck for a Lavonia roller mill.  Some things in life never change, and Tammy still resides in Bowersville. Tammy graduated from Hart County High majoring in meeting her future husband, Jimmy.  Jimmy is four years older than Tammy, hence they met at her best friend’s home where Jimmy was friends with the friend’s brother. Confusing but worth it as the relationship matured to a marriage of thirty-one years.  They married after Tammy graduated from High School and relocated to Athens to be closer to Jimmy’s job.  Jimmy has worked for thirty-three years as a sheet metal mechanic for C & M Mechanical and still counting.

Tammy found work at Revco (now CVS) and their first son Nathan was born.  Nathan is now twenty-eight and resides in Hart County where Tammy enjoys his two children, ages seven and three.  Eleven months and one day after Nathan’s birth, Tammy’s second child Jeremy was born.  Jeremy now lives in Starr, South Carolina.      

When Jeremy was nine months old, the family moved back to Bowersville where Tammy returned to work at textile manufacturer Gip’s in Hartwell, GA making men’s dress pants.  After thirteen and a half years of handling zippers on men’s pants, Tammy needed a change.  The solution was becoming an Optometrist Tech.  Tammy has worked at the Eye Care Center in Bowersville for the past thirteen years. If you can see when you visit the Eye Care Center, you will find Tammy does it all but perform the actual eye exam.  She makes your appointment, pretests you, files your insurance claim, and manages the office staff.  

Tammy is a pet lover, with a kennel currently consisting of Elvis, an eleven-year old Chihuahua, Leo, a four-year old Dachshund, and Sally, a six-year old Dachshund rescue.  Tammy noticed that Sally does run “a little funny but doesn’t let that slow her down”.  At age forty, Tammy did not want to slow down and decided to run a 5K.  You guessed it, her first race was the True Love Canine 5K in Winterville at Pittard Park.  If any race supports or benefits animal rescue, Tammy is now off and running.  She and Jimmy discovered the Black Bag Race Series in 2015.  Tammy placed fourth in her 45-49 female age group that year.  She progressed to rank second in her age group in 2017 in Black Bag, Clover Glove, the Run and See Georgia Race Series, and first in the AAA Health Race Series.  Her first Half Marathon was the Atlanta Half on Thanksgiving Day in 2017, and at mile ten she swore that she would never attempt this again. Three weeks later she registered to enter the half marathon in Cherokee, North Carolina in October 2018.

Her hobbies are grandchildren, camping (if there is electricity and Internet), cruises, and shopping. Tammy has “made a lot of new running friends” and misses “seeing everyone every weekend now as we have slowed down some this year”.           

Bob checking out from the back of the pack.  Look for the profile on Mark Polson, and transplanted Athenian Fran Fussell.


Tom "Dwight" Wendle - Boxed In and Packaged to Go

Tom was born in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin.  His father was a manager at Rex Chain Belt that manufactured metal chain belts for industrial and farm machinery.  After several acquisitions, the name is now Norberg Manufacturing.  The firm was criticized by President Trump in December 2016 for closing a plant and transferring three hundred jobs to a new plant in Mexico.  His mother was an occupational therapist, which explains Tom’s personality!  The highlight of his childhood was a Golden Retriever he was given in the seventh grade, and that Tom shepherded through obedience training to compete in a retrieve and jump course during grade school at Whitefish Bay.  High school followed with Tom graduating from Nicolet High.  Tom saw a Lt. Robinson Crusoe movie in 1966 with his brother Tim (passed away in 1999).  The character in the movie wanted to be named something else like “Dwight”.   His older brother started calling Tom “Dwight”.  The name struck as he followed his older brother to Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois receiving a B.A in Business Management and Administration in 1975. Bradley had a competitive basketball team and four team members lived on Tom’s floor his freshman year.  Although not on the team, Tom, 1 of the players and numerous other friends still gather at Peoria once a year for a senior age group reunion.  Tom served as a resident dorm advisor from his sophomore through senior year at Bradley.  As a Bradley student, Tom worked part time at Tinder Box, a cigar and tobacco store.

Graduation resulted in a move to Champaign Urbana, Illinois to open a new Tinder Box location.  From there he migrated to a management trainee program at Sears, and shortly thereafter realized that he needed a change.  Loading up what furniture he had and as expected a golden retriever, Tom, in 1980, went back to artic Wisconsin for employment in an inside sales position with a paper firm named Clevepak.  The division Tom worked in was sold to Norcross based Rock-Tenn (merged in 2015 with MeadWestvaco and renamed WestRock) in 1983 and relocated to historic Norcross.  Tom was responsible for developing the Partition Division sales section of Rock-Tenn.  In 1989 Tom was transferred from Norcross to a Rock-Tenn Milwaukee plant where he was responsible for shipping and scheduling.  Rock-Tenn next sent travel ready Tom to acquire partition companies in Nova Scotia and Portland, Maine and to instill Rock-Tenn operating procedures.       

The relocations resulted in Tom developing a twenty-year smoking habit of two packs a day.  The Portland, Maine plant was a smoke free facility and convinced Tom to kick the habit.  After five and a half years as a snow and ice nomad, Tom “jumped” at the opportunity to package himself back to the Norcross home office.  Tom retired on December 31, 2016 after thirty-seven years in corporate America. He misses the Rock-Tenn perks like free moving boxes. 

On July 4, 1996 Tom could not avoid seeing “all kinds of folks” wearing Peachtree Road Race shirts. Motivated, Tom ran the 1997 Peachtree Road Race and began participating in “more and more races”. Tom realized that he could not compete with “Roger and Bo” in his age group, so he started competing against himself in Run and See, Black Bag, and Clover Glove races.  Long term goals are the “Quest for 1,000” races and maybe a race in every state (twelve to date).  Tom estimates he needs another five or six years of good health to achieve his goals.  Otherwise he will be resigned to having a medical procedure in every state.  His favorite race is the Midnight Sun Run in Fairbanks, Alaska that Tom ran in June 2002 where Tom had the opportunity to connect with a long-lost cousin and run the 10K at midnight with the sun brightly shinning.  Georgia favorite races are the ones that serve the best race food.  Best race will be the one that serves a cold beer at the end of a hot weather run.

Bob checking out from the back of the pack. Look for the profile of Tammy Miller and profile of Mark Polson.