Status: Winner of New York City and Boston Marathons four times each. Former U.S. Olympian.
DOB: December 23, 1947 in: Hartford, CT
First running memory: “We were active kids, I was a Boy Scout and all that. When we were 12 or 13, there was a track meet and I won the mile in five minutes and twenty seconds. So then I joined the cross-country team in school that fall with my brother Charlie and my friend Jason.”
Running inspirations: “When I was a young runner, I saw Bikila win the gold medal in Tokyo in 1964 – and then doing his calisthenics after. Amby Burfoot, who won the Boston Marathon in 1968. I also followed runners like Jerry Lindgren, Frank Shorter, Ron Clarke. Jim Ryun was a great motivator for track athletes. I think there was better TV coverage back then. The sport has been somewhat suffocated today by other sports.”
Favorite movie: “Peter Pan.”
Last book read: “Right now I’m reading The Big Short by Michael Lewis. I’m also reading Showdown At Shepherd’s Bush by David Davis. I also recently read Alberto Salazar’s 14 Minutes. It’s a terrific book.”
Musical tastes: “Classical, Van Morrison, Gladys Knight And The Pips, most kinds.”
Hobbies/interests: “Art, sculpture, American Indian culture.”
First Car: “1973 Volkswagen Bug (white).”
First job: “Newspaper route for the Hartford Courant (age 13).”
Current car: “Honda Civic coupe 2005 (silver). A very clean machine.”
Favorite meal: “Macaroni and cheese.”
Nicknames: “Will-Ha, Boston Billy.”
Greatest sports moment: “Winning Boston Marathon in 1975, setting the American record (2:09.55). It was my fifth marathon. Helped set up my whole career as a runner. My biggest win.”
Most painful moment: “I would say Olympic marathon 1976 (placed 40th).”
Funny career memory: “A lot of different things. Sometimes in races incidents happen that are funny. I remember being at a press conference for the New York City Marathon with Alberto Salazar, it was very formal. Everyone thought of Alberto Salazar as a tough minded, serious person and during the conference he was telling me jokes, he has a very wry sense of humor. Another one I can think of now was when we went to Tokyo for a marathon and Tom Fleming and I would wake up at 6 am to go out to the park to run. And we saw a guy, he looked like a businessman, parked in his car, sleeping in his car. Every morning he’d be there sleeping in his car, when we went out for a run.”
Strangest Race: “I’ve run a total of 60 marathons, dropped out of eight. I’ve got a marathon victory on five continents. I think I’m the only American to have done that. One of the most unique was being invited to the Vietnam International Marathon in 1992. It was very tough physically and hard mentally because of the war. It was very hot there, especially coming from the New England climate in February. Out of about 200 starters, 60 of us finished. I tried to win it but it was very hot. I had to walk the last three miles. A woman came up to me on a motor bike and asked, ‘Do you need help?’ She gave me water and a piece of ice. We were treated great by the community there. It was a very kind of basic event, like a Jeep was the lead vehicle. And there was not a lot of water on the course. But it was an absolute honor to go there.”
Favorite marathon: “Boston, of course.”
Favorite sport outside running: “I like the more individual sports. Baseball, football are kind of boring to me, I have no interest in them. I was at the Indy 500 and was bored. I enjoy golf, gymnastics, tennis, the individual sports. Bubba Watson coming through and winning the Masters. I like it more when the individual is on the line, when you can really see the individual. I like boxing. That’s a great sport. Manny Pacquiao. The Klitschkos. Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, George Foreman, Muhammad Ali, Teofilo Stevenson. I like to see the great duels. They’re something special to all of us. That’s when boxing stands out. I remember a promoter from Boston said, ‘All the other sports came out of boxing and running.’”
Embarrassing Career Memory: “There’s different things. One time I was starting the Boston Marathon. It was at a later stage of my career, when I was beyond trying to win the race. I was still running. About twenty minutes before the race, we were standing there near the start. And just a few blocks away was where a friend lived. I decided to go to his house to go to the bathroom one last time before the race started. And I went in the bathroom and couldn’t get out, I couldn’t open the door handle, the house was being renovated. I was pushing on the door to try and get out before someone came and got me. Inside the bathroom I sort of had an epiphany, like, Maybe I should stay here [laughs]. How hungry am I to really run this race? Do you really want to do this? That was a little embarrassing.”
Qualities most admired: “I guess truthfulness. And sincerity are way up there. That, and compassion, number one.”
Family: Wife, Gail; daughters, Elise, Erika.
Residence: Acton/Boxboro, MA
Career Accomplishments: Winner of Boston and New York City Marathons four times each; Personal best time is 2:09.27 in 1979, 1976 U.S. Olympian; Winner 1977 Fukuoka Marathon, 1975 bronze medalist at IAAF World Cross Country championships; Winner of marathons on five continents.