Tony Rossmann was only a college sophomore when, at Fenway Park, he witnessed one of the most memorable moments in American sporting history.
But watching Ted Williams knock a homer in the final at-bat of his big league career was more than a great moment. It was a lesson in life.
“Williams had the wisdom to say, ‘that’s it,’” Rossmann said of the Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer retiring on the highest of high notes. “Ted just had the good sense to leave on his terms with a strong finish … that’s an admirable trait in all respects of life, not just athletics. He’s the example that I’m trying to follow.”
And on March 4, after a 35-year marathon-running career, Rossmann, 70, will too attempt a perfect exit when he runs in his 30th and final Napa Valley Marathon.
The 34th annual Napa Valley race is one that the San Francisco-based environmental attorney calls his favorite, but it’s also the event where Rossmann learned that his marathon running days were nearing an end.
It was during a 2004 Boston Marathon qualifier in Napa that Rossmann suffered a huge pain in his calf.
So great was the agony that it prevented Rossmann from finishing the race — it was the only time he failed to go the marathon distance.
He was later diagnosed with having a progressive neuropathy.
“It has slowed me down pretty immensely since that time,” he said. “I’ve tried to hang in there. I wanted to get to No. 30 with Napa, and that’s what’s going to happen — I hope — in [a] week.”
Napa seems a fitting finish line for Rossmann’s three-decade running career. In his 1981 Napa debut, Rossmann had to knock 20 minutes off his personal record to qualify for Boston.
And with other races struggling to retain their roots, Rossmann says Napa has “not lost the character of a community sponsored, runner sponsored race.”
His career is one formulated almost by accident. After stints in the Navy and law school, Rossmann fancied single-scull rowing. But rowing dried up when he relocated to San Francisco for work in 1971.
Rossmann simply began running to stay fit. He then gradually upped the ante by entering his first Bay to Breakers in 1975, and then later the San Francisco Marathon. But even with his marathon retirement looming, he’s planning a rowing comeback alongside his twin daughters.
In all, Rossmann reckons he’s trekked between 275 and 300 marathons, including 14 Boston’s and 14 New York’s. And if March 4 goes well, Rossmann can finally stop running.
Just like Ted.
Napa Valley Marathon
WHEN: March 4, 7 a.m.
STARTING LINE: Silverado Trail in Calistoga
FINISH LINE: Vintage High School in Napa
Rossmann’s estimated finish time: 7½ hours
Secret: Staying away from pavement when possible, and having a little bit of luck