Bill Iffrig is Boston bombings’ reluctant icon
Lake Stevens runner, 79, isn’t keen on rehashing his story of being struck down 20 feet from the marathon finish line, and finishing the race, a year ago.
Times staff columnist
One year later, Bill Iffrig picks up the phone, as unassuming as ever.
The 79-year-old runner from Lake Stevens, who became a national symbol of resilience after the Boston Marathon bombing last year, is tired of the attention, but he chats for a few minutes anyway. He’s kind. He just doesn’t want to do a formal interview. Not on this Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of the tragedy he says he was “damn lucky” to survive.
“I have something going on right now,” Iffrig says.
His reluctance is both understandable and charming. Tuesday was for remembrance, solemn reflection and appreciation of the human spirit, both in Boston and in the hearts of any compassionate person with a good memory.
Fortunately, Iffrig has told his story enough over the past 12 months for his courage to be documented properly. It’s the amazing tale of a man who fell 20 feet from the finish line after a bomb went off, which made for an iconic photo that made the cover of Sports Illustrated. Then Iffrig rose and completed the race, personifying a kind of bravery that we seek out in defiance of terrorism.
A popular group of local filmmakers is the latest to capture Iffrig’s essence. Jason Reid, Adam Brown, Darren Lund and Ian Connors — more affectionately known as the “Sonicsgate Guys” — have produced a 12-minute documentary on Iffrig called “The Finish Line” for the website, SportsOnEarth.com. It’s their third short documentary for the site. Their first SoE film, “Mr. Irrelevant,” which examines three players who were the last pick of their NFL draft class, was recently named a Webby Awards honoree.
Four years ago, their film “Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Team” won a Webby for best sports film, and Gary Payton joined the filmmakers on stage and accepted the award with five passionate words, “Bring back our Seattle SuperSonics!”
The crew, which still operates out of a Georgetown studio and works day jobs to help fund their creative dreams, laughs when reflecting on how far they’ve come since “Sonicsgate.” It turned out to be a wonderful and still-relevant film, with great storytelling and even hard-hitting journalism, but the guys are more refined now. That’s obvious when you watch their profile of Iffrig. It possesses great depth and texture despite being only 12 minutes long.
When it’s over, you don’t think of Iffrig as only a man who became famous amid chaos. You feel the pain he still carries from losing an 18-year-old child, and you find inspiration in all that he has accomplished (51 marathons, more than 46,000 miles run), even though he didn’t start running until age 42.
You see strength in his thin legs. You find perspective in the understated manner in which he talks about everything in his life.
“The main thing he wanted to do was tell you about Bill Iffrig, the man, instead of the guy who had his 15 minutes of fame when he showed up on the cover of SI,” said Reid, the director. “We wanted to provide insight into what prepared him to deal with that situation with such grace.”
Reid and his team spent an entire day with Iffrig last month and filmed one of his races to produce the film. It’s an intimate story — only one interview, detailed images of Iffrig from head to toe — a kind of film that Reid and Co. have long wanted to do.
Reid left the project so inspired by Iffrig that he has started running regularly.
“We’re proud of how this piece ended up,” Reid said. “It’s very personal and meditative. We feel really lucky he sat down with us and gave us a whole day.”
Iffrig is reluctant, but gracious. Ask him about his time with the filmmakers, and he says it was fun to work with them. He hasn’t seen the film, but he’s excited to view the finished product.
“They told me they would send it to me,” Iffrig said. “I’m sure they will when they can.”
You tell him there’s a DVD coming in the mail. Good, he says, because he’s not the type to look it up on the Internet.
Then Iffrig excuses himself from the conversation, wishing you a good night, even though you sense this is a tough night for him.
“He is absolutely an inspiring, salt of the earth, American dream guy,” said Brown, the producer. “He’s not looking for the spotlight, not looking to do much other than running. That’s what makes him feel good. He’s not going to bask in the celebrity of his coverage.”
Iffrig treats the attention, the constant calls from the media, like he would a telemarketer. He’s leery of answering the phone. Don’t expect him to call you back. If you happen to catch him when he’s available, he’ll be nice, but don’t invade on too much of his privacy.
He has something going on right now.
But luckily, the Sonicsgate Guys — the ever-evolving crew that united five years ago in love of a lost basketball team — have captured Iffrig in a revealing manner.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277
On Twitter @JerryBrewer
About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
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