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Salmi continues to share love of running, life lessons

Bob Salmi watches as runners pass by during the junior varsity boys race at the Sahli/Salmi Invitational Cross Country Meet recently at Lee Park Golf Course. Photo by John Davis taken 9/7/2023

Bob Salmi used to wonder why people would want to run long distances. Now, five decades and thousands of miles later, running long distances continues to be a meaningful part of his life.

In fact, it’s hard to imagine distance running without Salmi or the long-time coach without distance running.

As a teen growing up in Minnesota, Salmi recalled the days on his high school track and field team.

“I was aware of the physical benefits of being a runner. In high school I was a sprinter, hurdler, long jumper and I thought the milers were crazy,” Salmi said. “I was probably right, but I started to gain a little weight and I thought I would run it off.”

He started running seriously in 1976 and hasn’t stopped since.

Salmi isn’t sure about getting the so-called “runner’s high,” but he knows how much benefit he receives from running, both physically as well as mentally.

“I don’t know how high I get, but it’s a peaceful time for me. It’s my prayer time,” Salmi said. “If you’re lucky enough to have somebody run with you, you get really close to the people. When I was strong enough to still run with the kids, I got a lot of coaching done running with them.”

Salmi began his coaching career at Rosholt where he said, “I had never even heard of cross country at that time.”

He relocated to Minneapolis before moving to Aberdeen where he has resided ever since. He served as cross country coach at Aberdeen Central for more than 30 years as well as coaching distance runners for the track and field squad.

One of those impressionable young runners at the time was current Ipswich track and cross country coach Todd Thorson. He fondly recalls his time spent as an athlete competing for Salmi, and later as an assistant coach working under him.

“He was what I would call almost like a second father figure to me,” Thorson said.

He said everybody looked up to Salmi because he truly cared about his athletes. Thorson recalled many talks about running and life in general.

“Out of all the teachers I had or coaches, he was probably the biggest influence on me as an individual,” Thorson said.

While there were numerous road races back in the 1980s, distance running had yet to catch on like it has today. Salmi was a pioneer in the sport.

Bob Salmi, center, helps keep runners in order as they enter the finish chute at the Salmi/Sahli Invitational meet two years ago at Lee Park Golf Course. Photo by John Davis taken 9/9/2021

“There weren’t that many runners, either,” Salmi said of those days. “If I saw somebody running, I knew them, because they were the very few. Now, there’s people all over.”

Through the years, Salmi imparted words of wisdom about running, but even more so about things like good character and life lessons.

Thorson uses some of those same methods he learned from Salmi with his own runners.

“Especially how you treat your athletes, like spend more time talking to my kids about life and good character,” Thorson said. “I spend a lot more time teaching them to be good individuals than I do teaching them to be runners, because that’s way more important. Bob instilled that in me.”

Thorson even picked up on little motivational tactics that he learned from Salmi, who used to always have what he labeled “apple stuff” waiting for his runners as a reward for making it through long runs at practices.

“We really enjoyed that at the end of the run,” Thorson said. “You couldn’t wait to get back first just to be first in line.”

Through the years, Salmi has competed in four marathons, something that he finds a bit hard to believe.

“Again, in high school thinking milers were nuts, and here I am training for a marathon,” Salmi said. “I never ever thought I would ever run a marathon.”

Bob Salmi gives instructions through a megaphone to middle school girl runners before the start of their race at the Salmi/Sahli Invitational meet two years ago at Lee Park Golf Course. Photo by John Davis taken 9/9/2021

Salmi still runs these days at the age 81. He has kept a log and figures that he has run about 40,000 miles during in his lifetime (not quite two times around the world).

He also enjoys watching others run, which explains why he still shows up at meets, even though his coaching days are over.

“It’s kind of weird, but I just enjoy watching people run. I enjoy watching deer run, animals, just the act of running, because everybody’s got a little different form,” Salmi said. “It’s easy to look and say, ooh, that one’s going to have knee problems in a couple of years or things like that.”

Salmi knows he has his limitations these days, and says that some mornings are harder to get moving than others, but still runs six days a week.

He is grateful that he made the choice to get into distance running and for all that it has provided him through the years.

“I’m very thankful for the talents that God has given me to be able to do what I’ve done with the running,” Salmi said.

While he always finds himself coaching in his mind, he is happy that those days are over.

“I can say I’m glad I’m not coaching anymore. I don’t have to get on a bus at 5 o’clock in the morning and go somewhere.” Salmi said. “Instead I can go running at 5 o’clock in the morning.”

While Salmi may not be an official coach anymore, it’s safe to say he continues to inspire and motivate those around him through his example and perspective.

“He’s such a great guy. He just loves to run and loves to exercise. He embodies good character and a good person,” Thorson said. “If you were ever to look up to somebody and want to be like somebody, Bob Salmi’s your guy.”

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