Remembering Tim Simpkins
David Yon, November 15, 2012
Many of the details are foggy. But I remember sitting in a chair looking up at the doctor whose painful expression told you the words escaping his tight lips were not kind. The doctors in Tallahassee had foreshadowed the bad news, but now we sat in a doctor’s office at Shands hoping for a magic answer. There was none. Superman, Tim Simpkins, had an incurable lung cancer.
On Thursday, somewhere around 5,000 runners will participate in the 2012 Tallahassee Turkey Trot. Tim Simpkins, the man many remember as Superman for all the miles he ran around Tallahassee in various superhero costumes, won the very first edition of this race 37 years ago and certainly left his mark on it. In his “A Gulf Winds Classic – The Turkey Trot,” Bill McGuire described the first two years of the Turkey Trot beginning at Natural Bridge “as a ten-miler going out and back for five miles on pavement, then out-and-back in the opposite direction for five miles on the sandy trails of the Apalachicola National Forest.” He also noted the winner was a 22-year-old named Tim Simpkins. It was before I began running, but I certainly can imagine Tim pawing the dirt near the starting line, then crouching as the starter’s gun was raised into the air. When it went off, he flew and never looked back, winning the first race in a time of 53:33. He won the second year too, in 52:49.
Tim, and his wife Cora, heard the same words I did. Two months. Tim simply could not process or accept the death sentence he was hearing. The doctor was not speaking of hope and overcoming; he was clear the odds were very long to beat the lung cancer that had spread to his liver.
Tim was a fixture on the Tallahassee running scene, a prolific runner and a huge advocate for the sport. Over the years, he would be crowned GWTC Runner of the Year, winner of the Cleveland-Caldwell Advancement of the Sport Award, and a member of the GWTC Hall of Fame. He won the grand prix title four times and finished high many more times. Above all that however he became known for his running costumes. “Superman” found a way to entertain a city with a variety of costumes and an outgoing personality that touched the entire running community. He constantly exhorted runners to run hard, but not in the first miles – “Save it for those last miles.”
When the news broke of Tim’s cancer diagnosis, there was an outpouring of support. Runners gathered around the Leon Track and ran for hours in an effort, known as the “Ten For Tim Relay”, that raised money to help defray costs. It seemed most of Tallahassee showed up to support him and to my knowledge it remains the largest amount of money GWTC ever raised for one cause.
Tim would run Turkey Trot (or its equivalent) 11 times. After winning the first 2, he would finish in the top 3 six times and 4th once. None of us knew what, but there was something bad wrong when he toed the line for the last time in 2000. He still shouted his trade mark “don’t go out too fast” to all of the runners, but he was not himself. He would claim a sixth place finish in the race, but it would be his last competitive race as the vicious cancer that invaded and tortured his body would claim his life in March of 2001. Tim Unger will always remember that race, believing that Tim Simpkins had calculated just what was necessary for the two competitors and friends to wind up tied in the year long grand prix standings. The two had battled as fierce competitors all year. Somehow that is exactly what happened as Unger finished 3rd overall while Simpkins was 6th. Tim Unger never forgot that day. It is well worth remembering Superman’s impact on Turkey Trot as we reflect on the 2012 race.