There’s nothing Rick Serns won’t do to get to Bloomsday.
Thanks to ingenuity in traveling and persistence, the 44-year-old Olympia man hasn’t missed a race yet.
Serns’ goal was to complete 10 Bloomsday races. This year, he’s one of about 150 people preparing for their 20th Bloomsday.
“I’m kind of compulsive with keeping up streaks,” Serns says.
Maybe even a bit overzealous.
Take, for example, the time Serns was in Lincoln City, Ore., the day before Bloomsday 1986 - his 10th race.
The dilemma was unnerving: How to get from the Oregon coast to Spokane, a 450-mile stretch? Serns drove for about two hours to Portland, where he hopped onto a Greyhound. He reached Spokane at 7 a.m. - just in time to throw on some shorts and join the masses of people piling into downtown for the 9 a.m. start.
Other than a sore back, Serns was ready, too. Except for one thing. That year, he didn’t pre-register.
“I got there and they wouldn’t let me register,” Serns said.
“So I begged and pleaded.”
Serns’ interest for running started when he was a 13-year-old growing up on his family’s Wisconsin farm.
“I remember when we just got our first TV, and I was watching the 1964 Olympics,” Serns said.
“It was really inspiring to see all those runners.”
He never ran track in school, but he ran on his own. By his junior year of college, Serns says he started taking running seriously and ran six days a week.
“When I first started running in 1972, it was kind of an oddity. Then it became a real fad.”
Kudos go to his wife, Valerie, who has played a major role in her husband’s Bloomsday accomplishments.
She ferries him to and from airports, train and bus stations, and even chauffeurs car rides to Spokane for Serns and their three children.
“Each year, it’s exciting just trying to get there,” says Valerie Serns.
One year on the day of the race, Serns had to get to a funeral in Chehalis. Rather than pick one over the other, he did both.
He finished the 1987 race at about 10 a.m., then caught an 11:30 a.m. flight to Portland, where his wife picked him up, and drove him 2 hours to Chehalis. He changed in the car on the way and shuffled into the funeral service at 2:30 p.m., just as it started.
“As long as I can physically make it, I’ll be there,” he says.
Serns says he is devoted to Bloomsday because it’s something anyone can do. He sees it more as a fun run than a competition.
“The slowest athlete can participate with world-class runners, which is unique in sports,” Serns says.
It’s also exciting.
He looks forward to seeing the migration of the state’s West Side residents to the East Side each May.
“On the way home, for the first 100 miles, you see a lot of Bloomsday T-shirts in cars and at rest stops.
“One thing that I do miss from the first few Bloomsdays is the songs they used to play at the finish and the awards ceremony - Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again,” and the theme song to “Rocky.”
“They were perfect.”
That first Bloomsday, Serns was a 25-year-old physical education teacher at Upper Columbia Academy in Spangle. He found himself caught in a crush of 1,400 runners.
Despite the chaos of recent Bloomsday crowds, if it weren’t for the people, Bloomsday wouldn’t be half as exciting, Serns says.
“It’s fun to watch the crowd just as much as it is for the crowd to watch the runners. It makes you forget about the pain if you’re running hard.”
He particularly appreciated the diversity of the crowd, everything from nuns to rock bands playing music.
Serns, who is studying to earn a doctorate in education, considers himself lucky for making it through each race without major injuries.
One year, he ran the race with a terrible ache in his side. He dug his hand into his side, trying to squeeze out the pain.
Serns isn’t planning any crafty maneuvers to get him to Bloomsday this year.
And he says he’ll keep coming back as long as he can.
“I’ll do this until I die,” Serns says. “Hope it’s not at Bloomsday.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: BLOOMSDAY MEMORIES Worst Bloomsday moment: “Trying to find a bathroom the first couple of Bloomsdays. There were no port-a-potties, so we scouted out restaurants and hotels.” Best Bloomsday moment: “Finishing the 10th one. That was my initial goal. There’s a satisfaction of accomplishing that goal and no one can take it away from you.” Best time: “I ran it one year in about 44 minutes.” Survival tip: “Arrive at least an hour early if you’re going for a good time.”