July 28, 2014
John L. Parker  is a 'Florida Icon'

Photo: Rob Witzel

Florida Trend's 'Icon' Series

John L. Parker is a 'Florida Icon'

Runner/author, “Once a Runner,” Gainesville; age 66

Lilly Rockwell | 7/11/2013

» I grew up in Orlando. I did not go to the University of Florida right away. I went to a small school in Oregon called the University of Portland. I came back to the University of Florida on a basketball scholarship.

» I wanted to be a journalist with a law degree. I wanted to do stories that had a legal angle to it. I wanted to do things like Supreme Court analysis. I wanted to do consumer-oriented stories.

» One of the things you don’t realize when you are young is those impacts with the earth, depending on your particular running style, are pretty traumatic. That is your body weight every time. There is just a thin little cushion under your cartilage. It's taking all that impact thousands of times. It’s remarkable we hold up as well as we do.

» I wrote speeches for Bob Graham. It was a hugely high-pressure job in the days before computers. Politicians will put off to the last possible second writing speeches. It is very, very hard work.

» It was so odd to see someone on the sidewalk running that you would often get jeered at or cat-called. In fact, that would happen pretty much every time you went out. You would get yelled at. You had to be pretty hard core to do it regularly because it was just such negative reinforcement.

» During the course of going to law school, I had sort of slowly gotten interested in the law for its own sake. At some point along the way, I realized my life was passing by. I had known for a long time that I ultimately wanted to do some serious writing. The book was a germ of that.

» I can’t blame running on my knee problems. I took up snow skiing late in life. I had some bad crashes, and that, I am sure, did my knees no good whatsoever.

» Occasionally, Graham would track speeches so carefully it would get us in trouble. A couple of times, he got into just ridiculous situations (in speeches) where he started reading my (notes) to him. One time, he said in the middle of the speech, ‘You might want to mention’ so and so … .'

» When I joined the team for real, I ran cross-country and (Olympian) Jack Bacheler was always around. Everybody knew he ran over 100 miles a week, and everybody just figured none of us could conceive of trying to train with him. I found out he wasn&'t as unapproachable as everyone thought. He was basically just shy.

» I sent the book out to three agents to see if I could get representation (in 1978). At the time, running was just starting to be a big thing in America.  

» We had a lot of success selling the book in running stores. They would carry it and sell tons of copies. Mostly the independents, not the mall stores where joggers went, but the places where real runners went. It just became word-of-mouth among runners.

» The problem with that cartilage is it doesn’t replace itself after a certain age. It doesn’t come back. Some medical guy is going to make a gajillion dollars once he figures out how to do that.

» There was a guy in Tallahassee that legally changed his name to Quenton Cassidy, the (protagonist) from "Once a Runner." I called him. You can't imagine the reaction I got from this poor kid on the phone.

» We had terrible shoes. It's amazing how bad the shoes were then. It's one of the reasons I ran barefoot. The ironic thing about it is I do not recommend people do it. Most people are not physiologically ready to do it. It's the kind of thing you need to build in slowly and the kind of thing you need to do when you are young.

» Everything that has come out of switching to running, like ‘Once a Runner,’ for instance, none of that would have happened if I remained in basketball.

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