MONMOUTH — Monmouth resident Bill Smallwood, 88, has been running and competing his entire life.
A man of few words, Smallwood doesn’t have much to say on his life of athletic accomplishment. However, his eyes do light up when starts talking about it, and he swells with pride.
“I’m very proud of all these,” said Smallwood as lifelong friend and classmate Ralph Whiteman sifted through a box stuffed with Smallwood’s many medals and ribbons, recalling memories and telling stories with each medal he picked up.
“He is not built like the typical runner, but boy can he move,” said Whiteman.
Smallwood first started competing in junior high. His quarter-mile team held the local record for several years. His records with the Quad Cities Senior Olympics and Macomb Senior Olympics stand to this day.
Smallwood’s daughter recently crafted a quilt for her father, using T-shirts he has acquired at various events over the years. The quilt is on display at Courtyard Estates, where Smallwood resides.
“I think it’s terrific,” Smallwood said. “It shows they take a great deal of pride in me.”
Whiteman added, “Those kids really look up to their father.”
Smallwood and Whiteman served together in the Navy at the end of World War II. The duo was stationed at Naval Air Station in San Diego, California.
“At that time, they still had full athletic programs in the Navy. The track team used to run down the beach to the Coronado Hotel,” said Whiteman. “We both ran the San Diego Relays.”
Smallwood and Whiteman are two of four Monmouth residents to ever qualify for the National Senior Olympic Games. Both Monmouth High School and Monmouth College alumni, the two have been friends for the better part of a century.
“Bill used to work out on the college track in retirement. We lived next door, and I always saw him out, running the track,” said Whiteman.
In 1946, during his senior year of high school, Smallwood took fifth in the state for the 220-yard dash, which he describes as “easily my best event.”
Smallwood was also among the competitors at the first ever National Senior Olympic Games held in St. Louis in 1987.
“It is about pride. I just wanted to start competing again,” Smallwood said of returning to his passion decades later. “It was tough to start back up, but I never really stopped running.”
In 1987, Smallwood was 59 years old. In 1991, he participated in the World Veterans Championship in Finland, facing a pool of competition who essentially compete at a professional level. In 2003, at 75, Smallwood was still running track, and he was still winning.
Whiteman has much adoration for his friend.
“Growing up, I was Bill’s Joe Biden,” Whiteman joked. “There area a lot of good memories here. We never competed against each other, but we have run at the same time, and we have competed against retired Olympic athletes.”
Smallwood has led a long, fruitful life. He has been a husband, a father, managed a business — Norris Office Equipment, served his country, graduated college and been inducted into the Monmouth High School Hall of Fame.
“Out of everything I have done in my life,” this is one of the things I am most proud of,” said Smallwood, gesturing to the box of medals.
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