Kansas Track and Cross Country Legend Still Setting the Pace
Oct. 23, 2006
LAWRENCE, Kan. -
Former Kansas track and cross country coach Bob Timmons is still a man of many words, and even more memories, about his 23 years as head coach. But of those memories, none are as vibrant as his thoughts on Rim Rock Farm, his former home that he gave to the University in 2005. Just ask him what it's like to run the daunting course.
"Rim Rock is easy to talk about, but not so easy to run," Timmons said during a recent interview. "The best part about the course is the terrain, with its sprawling hills and valleys, which makes it one of the most unique courses out there."
Timmons bought Rim Rock Farm from Gene Burnett shortly after taking over the track and cross country head coaching positions from Bill Easton in 1966. Then, after a series of events at the team's prior homes, he decided to take advantage of the topography and design a challenging cross country course.
"The name Rim Rock Farm comes from the three elevations present throughout the acreage," Timmons said. "The rocks bleed out of the hills, forming different rock bluffs and also creating many of the ponds present throughout the course. That's what makes it so exciting and demanding. We are able to interlace the three elevations into the course so that runners have to traverse all sorts of different obstacles. The beauty of it is having so many things to look forward to."
Beautiful does not even begin to describe it. Located in Jefferson County just north of Lawrence, Rim Rock Farm is entering its 33rd year as home of the Jayhawks. Aside from the hills and ponds, Timmons understood that the course needed other nuances to give it a certain degree of distinction from others around the country. What he came up with was silhouette statues of accomplished Kansas runners.
"Actually, it first started with some rock sculptures we carved out of the bluffs," Timmons said. "Hippo Rock is one of the infamous sculptures, but then we wanted a way to honor the athletes, so we hired someone to carve the silhouettes out of 3/8" steel."
Impossible to miss as you make the turn up Wellman Road, the silhouettes honor seven legends of Kansas distance running: Glenn Cunningham, Herb Semper, Wes Santee, Allen Frame, Billy Mills, John Lawson and Jim Ryun. Each is locked into an eternal pose, paying tribute to their accomplishments. Timmons still remembers each athlete vividly and how they contributed to the success of the distance running program at Kansas. And he has a story about each of them.
"Glenn Cunningham was tough and a fantastic competitor who could enthrall people with his speaking abilities," Timmons recounted. "Billy Mills was not loud or boisterous, but led by example. Wes Santee was an athlete in an entirely different class. He was almost a four-minute miler and is one of the reasons why distance running is so big in this state. Al Frame followed right after Wes and was sensational, and his sister (Anne) wound up being a manager for me later. Herb Semper was a wonderful competitor out of Iowa and a two-time national champion."
"Billy's (Mills) pose is actually the same position that he had when he won the 10,000 meters at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo," Timmons recalled. "Jim Ryun actually lived on the hill over by his statue before he went off to Washington."
"I coached Jim in of high school in Wichita. When he came out as a sophomore, we didn't even spell his name right," Timmons said. "He was humble, quiet and reserved. But then he started setting national records in high school and kids started talking about him a lot."
One of his favorite stories centers around John Lawson, the last KU runner to win the national championship (1965), and the only Kansas runner to win the conference championship on West Campus.
"John lived on the top floor of Templin Hall and he never took the elevator," Timmons said. "He knew that running those stairs would help his running. So on the day of the championship, as a show of support, his dorm mates hung a banner with his name on it from the roof of Templin. I can't remember how many floors it took up, but it seemed to give him an extra boost of confidence that day. He was the ideal captain, always the leader of the group and very humble."
Timmons is not shy about talking about former KU Track and Field Coach Bill Easton, who coached every runner represented by a silhouette on the course except for Cunningham and Ryun. Timmons credits Easton with creating the foundation of conference championships and the winning tradition associated with Kansas. In fact, Timmons got one of his first coaching opportunities working with Easton.
"Coach Easton was terrific, and my year with him was a fantastic experience," Timmons said. "He did more to build the traditions of conference titles in any sport than anyone. He built his programs around distance running. By the time I took over, the tradition was already there."
However, the uniqueness of Rim Rock Farm does not end with the statues. Adding to the intrigue is a cemetery that houses the final resting places of several Civil War veterans. But the pair of covered bridges that are incorporated into the course really separate Rim Rock Farm from the rest of the competition.
The original bridge, Oak Holler Bridge, was built prior to Burnett's ownership of the farm, so even Timmons is not quite sure how old it is. The second bridge, King's Bridge, named after Bud King and built in 2001, offered Timmons and others the chance to include both on most courses.
"It was important for us to get both bridges on the routes," Timmons said. "There are not many courses in Kansas that offer the opportunity to run through covered bridges, and that is what makes it different and exciting."
Although retired from coaching, Timmons still makes routine visits to the Farm, which is currently under the maintenance and supervision of Free State High School cross country and track coach Steve Heffernan, himself a former distance runner at KU. Timmons credits the current coaching staff at KU for keeping up the tradition he inherited from Easton.
"The current staff is doing a wonderful job recruiting top athletes and building the program," Timmons said. "They face tougher competition than we did in the Big Six, Big Seven and Big Eight, especially with the addition of the Texas schools. The conference strength helps, though, because a team that's strong in the conference will be strong nationally."
Current track and cross country coach Stanley Redwine appreciates all that Bob has done in establishing the foundation of the program.
"Bob's accomplishments are great," Redwine said. "He is a huge KU fan and really set the standard for everyone else who came after him and coach Easton. My staff and I are looking forward to picking up where he left off."
That looks to be especially true this season, as the Jayhawks and the city of Lawrence play host to the 2006 Big 12 Cross Country Championships. The event marks the first time KU has hosted a Big 12 Conference championship, and will provide the University with even more opportunities to promote Rim Rock Farm. And you can count on Bob Timmons being a part of the festivities.
"There is something for everyone at Rim Rock Farm," Timmons said. "Parents are afforded the opportunity to walk around throughout the course and find all the wonderful places to observe. Spectators can catch the runners three or four times throughout the event and explore the different elevations. And the runners can navigate a course that will challenge them with its obstacles and amaze them with its beauty. That's what makes Rim Rock Farm so exciting."