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Remembering George

By Joyce Magee

(In 1997 the eighth annual Hook Mountain Half-Marathon was renamed the George Wodicka Hook Half because the race had been his idea. Because he was always pushing runners to be tough and take on new challenges and the idea of a race on Hook Mountain, a favorite training site, was a natural. The following article was written for the Rockland Road Runners' newsletter 'The Runaround' following George's death from prostate cancer...)

George WodickaGeorge Wodicka, longtime RRR member, retired NYPD and veteran marathoner, lost his battle with cancer on November 2, 1996, the night before his favorite race, the NYC Marathon. When George was diagnosed with prostate cancer in December 1993, he began a personal crusade to urge men to have PSA tests, something he had neglected. If you are a man over 50, George would want to remind you to see your doctor about this simple early cancer-detection lab test.

People who run together regularly tend to become very close. They talk to fill the miles, the confidences grow and pretty soon training, partners know more about one another than they do about anyone else. That's why our group of running friends is so close. We come from diverse backgrounds and walks of life, but we are as close as one large loving family. George was the designated head of that family.

We called him the Guru of Rockland Lake because he always had wise, sensible advice about running, whether it was marathon training or 10K racing or beginning a jogging program. He'd get caught up in the thrill of converting another newcomer to running, he knew how to guide inexperienced - or experienced - runners to success. He would go to races and run with them, often sacrificing a finishing time he could be proud of. Many times he ran double the stated mileage of a race because he shuttled between two runners he was mentoring on that day.

He had an uncanny ability to predict the finishing time of his marathoning friends, often writing down his guess the day before and then comparing it to the result. He seldom missed by more than a minute or two due to his knowledge of running and of people.

GeorgeHe lived in Valley Cottage 26 years and ran at Rockland Lake longer than most of us. Some years ago our running group graduated from running together to running and then eating breakfast together. First it was muffins, until the fat content of muffins was widely reported. Then we became the bagel bunch. Every day the staff of one or another coffee shop in Congers would brace itself for the arrival of four to 12 runners at about 10:15am. George's routine was to cut his bagel in half and eat one half while storing the other half, wrapped in a napkin, in his armpit to keep it warm. Yes, in a public restaurant. He then delighted in grossing us out by offering us a bite of the warm bagel.

Someone remembers that his last day at the coffee shop was the day after Thanksgiving, 1995. After that, the bagel bunch took a sack of bagels and a tray of coffees to his house in Valley Cottage every morning after the run. We'd enjoy the same jokes and insults over and over, the way good friends do. By this time, after years of running and eating together, there wasn't much we didn't know about one another. We knew about George's love for politics, and how sure he was that he was always right (far right). If anyone ventured to disagree with him ("maybe everyone shouldn't carry a gun... maybe Rush Limbaugh wouldn't be the perfect president... maybe police are occasionally too rough..."), he would become excited and start yelling, belittling such crazy notions and ending any discussion before it began.

We also knew that he was proud of his thriftiness. He was extremely generous with his friends, but he hated waste. George probably had Rockland's lowest utility bills on record. He took three-minute showers, kept the thermostat set on 55 degrees, and flushed the toilet only when absolutely necessary. To him, this only made common sense.

Another famous thing about George was his driving - it was legendary. On long trips, he made record time - New York to Texas in 12 hours! He never stopped, and even kept a large empty bottle in the car to forestall any pit stops. The only time he stopped was for gas and whenever he was pulled over for speeding. At those times, he was prepared. No matter where he was, he could usually talk his way out of a ticket, and then he had the courtesy to give the local police officer an impressive new NYPD ball cap. When he returned from one of his many out-of-town races, we'd ask two questions: his finishing time and how many hats he'd given away.

more GeorgeWe sometimes thought George felt that laws were made for other people. He not only ignored speed limits, he also felt that paying tolls and stopping at red lights were optional...

As we remember him with love and a smile, we can only hope that St. Peter hasn't installed a toll booth at the Pearly Gates because George may never get into heaven if he has to toss in a quarter first.


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