Bob Wood’s initial passion was basketball.
He only went out for track because his coach at Ten Sleep, Joe Daniel, asked him.
He only ran the mile because Daniel made freshmen run the mile; no one else on the team would.
However, by the end of Wood’s high school career in 1967, he was a four-time state champion in the mile; he is believed to be Wyoming’s first four-time event champion in track and field.
Wood’s success at Ten Sleep was just the start of the intertwining of his fate and his future, leading to his career as one of the most influential people in American distance running.
Before Wood left Wyoming, made international running connections and established himself in high places, he dodged cow patties on a makeshift practice track in Ten Sleep.
In Wood’s first timed mile – a practice run on a marked-off cow pasture near the school – Wood ran the distance in 5 minutes, 15 seconds, “not knowing what I was doing,” he said.
Ten Sleep’s mile record at the time was 5:26.
Later that week, in his first high school meet on an actual track in Morton, Wood ran a 5:06, bettering the school record by 20 seconds.
By the state meet, Wood had continued to improve and was one of the favorites to win the mile in Class C, the 1960s equivalent of Class 1A. But he wasn’t THE favorite, so Wood and Daniel figured a fifth-place finish would be good.
At the midpoint of the race, Wood was in fifth, ready to meet expectations. Then the first-place runner dropped out of the race, puking.
All of a sudden, Wood was in fourth, and the favorite was out.
Expectations flipped, and Wood flipped the field. He started picking off runners one by one and took the lead for good on the last half of the final lap.
Down the final stretch, “I could hear my coach over everyone, saying, ‘You better win it now,'” Wood said. ” … I was just overwhelmed that I had won the thing.”
He wasn’t done winning.
As a sophomore, Wood fought off both a kidney infection and a bad midseason cold and, despite only running the mile once during the regular season, repeated as state champion.
Wood won both the Class B cross country championship and the Class C mile title as a junior, but by then, he started looking for more competition – and found it in Lander’s Nelson Moss. Even though the two ran in different classifications, they were Wyoming’s best distance runners, competing against each other.
Wood’s senior year, 1967, brought both a crowning achievement and a short-lived record.
With no Class C competition to push him, Wood set his own pace in the mile, hoping for a time that would hold up against Moss’s time. Wood finished in 4:29.9, a time that did more than just push his rival. It set an all-class state meet record.
The record lasted about 20 minutes, until the end of the Class AA race, when Moss notched a 4:26.6 to reset the all-class record Wood had just broken.
The newspaper reports the following day were filled with reports of the Wood-Moss mile record trade. No report mentioned that, most likely, Wood had just become Wyoming’s first four-time event champion, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished since the state meets started in 1922, and repeated since by only five other male high school athletes in Wyoming.
After Ten Sleep
Wood’s college career at the University of Utah never blossomed the way he hoped it would. He raced behind an all-American as a freshman, limiting his opportunities to be a frontrunner as he had in high school, and then took a two-year Mormon mission to Scotland.
After he returned, he fought injuries, and his motivation waned.
“I came back, but I never really had the fire,” Wood said.
Nevertheless, once his collegiate career was over, he found ways to stay involved in track and field. He was an assistant coach at Utah and also coached at the high school level in Utah. But when he was passed over to be Utah’s head track coach, Wood left coaching.
His next career move, though, kept him in track and field circles for years to come.
It all started with a conversation with distance runner Paul Cummings. Cummings was the NCAA champion in the mile while at BYU and was entering the world of professional running.
He needed an agent.
He told Wood: “You’re the only guy I trust.”
Wood hesitated but finally relented. He became Cummings’ agent. From there, Wood’s reputation, and his influence, in distance running grew. And grew. And grew.
Over his career, Wood represented hundreds of runners, including 54 Olympians from 22 different countries, although he eventually specialized in working with American runners. He used that influence to become an active part of USA Track and Field, serving as the head of long distance running and on the national executive committee from 1992 to 1997.
Wood remains proud that he ran his agency as a solo operation for four decades – no assistants, no partners – and represented some of the world’s best runners.
“They hire me because they want me, and that’s why I did what I did the way I did it,” Wood said.
Today, Wood is mostly retired but still represents a handful of runners with whom he has built close relationships.
More than his career, though, he’s proud of his family. He and his wife Kay have been married for more than 40 years, building their lives in the Salt Lake City area. He has three sons. Samuel, Seth and Isaac have molded their own careers, Samuel and Isaac around track and field, Seth with linguistics.
Wood had eased into a steady retirement rhythm until March 17, less than a month ago.
That’s when Wood had the first colonoscopy of his life.
The procedure led doctors to find a growth the size of a tangerine.
On March 30, Wood underwent surgery. Wood says the doctors “got it all,” and now he’s back home, with no further complications or necessary treatments in the foreseeable future.
When recalling his life, from his family to his track accomplishments to his career to his health, he often uses the same word: “Blessed.”
“I can’t complain, for a kid from Ten Sleep,” he said.
Coming Friday: Bob Wood’s place in Wyoming track and field history is set, but others’ accomplishments have been lost to time. You can help fix that.