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Running For "Oakie" - By Mike Lynch

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Running For "Oakie"

 

For more than 30 years, boys and girls in Woburn have been discovering the joy of running at a very early age. Running carried them into, through and beyond high school. And the gentleman who exposed all of these harriers to this wonderful sport was Bill O'Connor, who coached track and cross country at Woburn High School for as long as anyone can remember.

"He made us run for the love of the sport, not for winning championships" (of which Bill's teams won many by the way). "He taught us to be passionate and try to be successful for each other, not for one individual," said Tanner captain Laura Flagg.

On October 15th Bill O'Connor lost his nine year battle with cancer. Gritty guy that he was, Bill coached the team up until five days before he passed away. The bridge over a stream at Horn Pond, Woburn's home course, was decorated with running shoes draped all over it, left behind by runners of all ages who were touched by Bill.

There was sadness in the running community but there was still over a month left in the season. "Instead of mourning, my girls celebrated his fantastic life”, coach James Fletcher told me. "They held true to his mantra, run for each other, "Did they ever! The girls honored their late coach by running away with the Middlesex League Title and on November 12th they won the Eastern Massachusetts Division 2 championship.

"We knew it was what he wanted, he wouldn't have wanted us sitting around feeling sorry because he wasn't there," added Flagg. When I visited with the team it was raining buckets but the girls forged on with their workout and one of the runners recited one of Bill O'Connor's favorite lines. "Coach always said 'rain only bothers dry people' and this rain is a message from coach to keep going and prepare ourselves for the All State Championships," said a smiling Cayla Barretto.

You never know how young people will react in adverse times. Their coach, Bill O'Connor prepared them not just to run but to handle life's fortune as well as misfortune. Oakie would be proud of this group. He served the youth of Woburn well and his influence will be running around town for generations.