Profile by Jack Criss
(This article is from Mississippi Sports Magazine, May/June 2012, edition and is reprinted with permission from Pevey Publishing, LLC. Please go to www.mssportsmagazine.com for more information).
Rod Simmons was getting his annual physical in February of 2009 and the news was not that good.
His doctor told Simmons, an LPN health professional himself, that his cholesterol was entirely too high. Moreover, she gave her patient three months to bring the numbers around to good standing. Simmons took the news in stride—literally—and a new movement was about to be born.
“I found out my cholesterol was too high on a Tuesday,” the affable Simmons says. “That very Saturday I was walking my first 5K race!” The new competitor placed second for walkers in that race, the 2009 Rush For Brush in Jackson on the campus of UMC in Jackson, and has never retraced his fast steps.
Simmons who, when not winning most 5K walks in his age category places in the top three, became a regular fixture at Saturday races. More an advocate than fanatic, he (with his wife April usually at his side) can always be seen at road races across the state with his trademark smile, encouraging other runners and walkers, an omnipresent camera in his hands when not competing. Simmons has lost count of the number of races he’s participated in but says it’s well over 100.
Three months after that doctor’s appointment, Simmons had lowered his bad cholesterol number to 14 when it had been well above 130. “The scale for bad cholesterol is between 0 to 130,” Simmons, who currently works at the University Physicians Grants Ferry facility, says. “I saw what exercise could do for me and how much fun it was so I really became involved in area races and felt the need to get others involved, too.”
By early 2010, Simmons was on the board of the Mississippi Track Club handling public relations for that longstanding organization. Soon, though, he saw other avenues he wanted to explore and new directions to take. This led Simmons and April to form Rod’s Racers, which just recently became an LLC.
What stared as a popular Facebook page—and movement—Simmons describes now as a “business.” He says, though, that “at the same time our (Facebook and web) site is a friendly ‘community’ for walkers and runners of all backgrounds and abilities. They come to the Rod’s Racers page to get real time answers to questions, learn about upcoming races and post photos. Rod’s Racers has also allowed us to establish great relationships with race directors from all across the state and we help them promote their events, from the largest to the smallest community fundraiser.”
Rod and April are on the road just about every weekend traveling the state, taking photos and interacting with their running and walking friends. Simmons has six other people who assist him with Rod’s Racers, all competitors themselves: Tim Irvine and Evelyn Watkins in Meridian, Frank Barrett in Laurel, Gina Mooney in Seminary, Katie Amos in Brookhaven and the recently added Meghan Franks from Starkville, one of the state’s elite female runners. Simmons explains that these associates help with the social media aspects of Rod’s Racers, from Twitter to race updates and photo tagging on Facebook.
With nearly 1600 followers and growing everyday, Rod’s Racers has become in its short existence a positive force in the Mississippi athletic community. This was furthered evidenced by Simmons’ organization itself getting into the sponsorship and creation of road races.
“We put on the Inaugural Viking Half Marathon in Greenwood with Beth Stevens and the Chamber of Commerce there,” Simmons says, “which drew over 650 people all through Facebook—a major success that we’re really proud of. We’re also putting on the new Flora Half Marathon for Sunnybrook Children’s Home and the Rise and Shine Half Marathon and 5K in Hattiesburg in May and the Hotter Than Hades Tibbett Half Marathon in Leland in June, all three of which benefit area charities. This was part of my vision for Rod’s Racers when we started and I’m very excited about getting these new races off the ground,” Simmons says.
When asked how it feels to be a “celebrity” in Mississippi’s running community, Simmons laughs heartily. “I’m just amazed at how fast our Rod’s Racers page has grown and the enormous support we’ve received. I’m very grateful. I want people to know that we are here for them, plain and simple. That’s the bottom line.”