Clio runner- Riley McLincha
by Ron Marinucci, Apr. 8, 2009
Clio runner Riley McLincha
Is there still such a thing as a Renaissance man? Well, if there is, Michigan runner Riley McLincha must surely be one. The 57-year old is a retired General Motors skilled tradesman, has a Bachelor of Arts degree in science, and is a connoisseur of fine beers. He’s an accomplished musician and singer; in fact, at the renowned Crim Festival of Races in Flint, he sings the pre-race Star-Spangled Banner. Crim race director Deb Kiertzner said, “Riley truly is the voice of the start line when he sings the national anthem. I’ve told him that’s his job as long as I’m race director.” He also serenades runners with “Spirit of the Crim,” which he wrote.
There’s a physical side to McLincha, too. The past couple of years, he’s paddled hundreds of miles of the Saginaw River and its tributaries, the largest drainage system in the state, in his trusty kayak, Swiftie. And he’s written a memorable journal about his explorations. He also bikes. Besides running, he drubbles, too.
“Drubbles?” Is that even a real word? To McLincha and the many people who have watched him, it certainly is.
Drubbling is what McLincha calls his running while dribbling not one, not two, but three basketballs. It seems to be unique. I’ve never seen nor even heard of another “drubbler.” There are references online to single runners dribbling one basketball for a single race—but not three of them at once, for up to the marathon distance, and for 15 years. As McLincha quipped, “It’s a testament to either its difficulty or its worthlessness.”
McLincha has run many races, from 5K on up, with his basketballs. Of his 17 marathons (including Boston twice), five were drubbled. These five include Boston and Chicago. Kiertzner said he is one of just 22 runners who have finished all 31 Crim ten-milers and he introduced drubbling there in 1994.
He started running, just running, in 1977, the year of the inaugural Crim. When running without his basketballs, he’s a frequent age-group placer, from 5K up to the half marathon. From there, it gets even more interesting.
“I learned how to juggle in 1981,” he recalled, and began to combine running and juggling at the same time. Calling it “joggling,” he “joggled the Crim in 1987.
“In 1992, where I work[ed] at GM [in Flint], they put in a gym. One day I saw three basketballs.” A light bulb went on as he picked them up, trying to bounce all three at once. “I had a hard time,” remembered, “but I knew I had to try running with them. It was pretty strenuous.”
“The first time outside I thought I was going to die. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to learn.”
Drubbling isn’t just something he does. “I don’t just jump into it.” He’s trained with the balls. In the winter, for example, he tries to maintain five or six miles of drubbling. After all these years, though, he doesn’t need to practice quite as much now. “It’s like riding a bicycle. I don’t train as much. I’ll do a 10-miler or two before the Crim, though.”
Needless to say, he’s loved every minute—or mile!—of drubbling. “I wish I had done it years ago.”
McLincha has drubbled the 10-mile Crim in just about 95 minutes. And, he says, in a four-miler, “all flat, straight, good roads,” he did it at a 7:30 pace.
It isn’t just a matter of coordination. There’s a toll on his body. After one marathon, he sighed, “I put down the balls and just ran on a track. It was so easy, like walking instead of running.” Drubbling also seems to increase the chances of injury. “They seem to compound,” with the added stress and awkward motions his body makes.
When he began drubbling, he actually gained some weight, “eight pounds.” But his body fat content decreased, the weight gain stemming from “more muscle mass in my upper body.”
Spectators are thrilled seeing McLincha and his basketballs, but what about other runners? “Usually I only hear positives, great comments,” he noted. “The people who know me think it’s great.” But he recognizes there are some runners, “maybe strangers,” who might not care for “the pounding of the balls, BANG! BANG! BANG!” Out of consideration, he starts races at the very back of the pack. He quipped, “That’s why my times are so slow,” adding, “but I still end up passing a lot of people.”
Of course, he has achieved something like celebrity status in the Flint and Michigan areas and even in other parts of the Midwest. When he ran one Chicago Marathon, he wore a tee shirt that read, “Hey Jordan, try this!” He later chuckled, “At 20 miles, I was dragging and I heard two women say, ‘He can’t do it.’ I snapped around and said, ‘What’s that?’ and one of them said, “Jordan can’t do it.’”
His reputation has spread. “I always consider ’02 as my significant year. [That] year I carried the Olympic Torch, appeared on ‘Today,’ and was on a Trivial Pursuit card.” It was cool that he quickly added, “but the high from becoming a grandfather that year was equally great.”
He gets invited to races, “usually at least a dozen times a year, from 5Ks to half marathons.” He also does halftime shows at basketball games. “That’s harder than running,” he admitted. “It’s harder on a gym floor. I bend over more and have to go in circles. But I like doing it.” In his self-deprecating manner, he laughed, “In my old age, my hair’s all white. So at one show I decided to dress like an old man, all in white, with suspenders. I fumbled my way out…. It went a lot better than it used to.”
After more than 15 years of drubbling, he still enjoys it. “Oh, yeah, I hate getting old. I don’t know how much longer I can do it. I’m slower, but it’s not really tougher. I’m going to do it until I can’t do it any more.”
“Then,” he added, “I’ll just run.”