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Don Fish, Ed Lillis, Gary Fischer and Steve Clark, the four competitors who have never missed a Quad-City Times Bix 7, pictured here as they prepared for their 40th race in 2014. They are planning to participate in their 45th Bix 7 on July 27.

For each of the four competitors who have participated in every Quad-City Times Bix 7 and are preparing for the 45th annual race, the challenge remains part of the allure.

That’s especially true for Ed Lillis as he works toward being at the starting line at Brady and Fourth Street at 8 a.m. on July 27.

Lillis expects to be on crutches as he makes his way around the hill-filled seven-mile course through the streets of Davenport.

“I’m calling it ‘Bix on sticks,’” said Lillis, the longtime boys' track coach at Rock Island High School, who is recovering from surgery to repair a broken hip replacement.

Lillis will be accompanied by his two sons as he walks the Bix 7 course, joining Steve Clark, Don Fish and Gary Fischer as the only participants who have competed annually in an event which began with a field of 84 runners in 1975.

Each still welcomes the test which now attracts thousands of entries.

“Wouldn’t miss it. It’s become a family tradition,’’ said Fischer, an Iowa City resident who plans to join his two daughters, one from Kansas City and one from the Quad-Cities, in participating. “I used to run it, then I jogged and now, I’m out there shuffling, but that works for me.’’

It also works for Clark, a former Rock Island resident now living in Streamwood, Illinois, and for Fish, who lives in Davenport.

“This is the only race I run anymore and I’ll keep going as long as I can,’’ Clark said. “Being one of the original group, it’s been amazing to watch the race grow over the years and be part of every one.’’

Fish said the challenge becomes greater each year.

“Ten years ago it didn’t seem like it had been 35 years, but this year it seems like it has been 45, but the legs still work and the experience, it remains unlike anything else,’’ Fish said. “It’s Bix and it has always been different.’’

Lillis expects this year’s Bix to be a different experience, but one he wants to take on.

“There’s a bit of a challenge to it this time, but I feel like I will be up to it,’’ he said.

Around the first of May, one of Lillis’ two artificial hips broke. Before getting it fixed, he coached the final weeks of the Rock Island track season with the help of his athletes and assistants while moving around in a wheelchair.

Since getting the broken artificial hip replaced, Lillis has made steady progress while moving on crutches.

He’s even tried them out on the Bix course.

“I wanted to get out on the hills and see what I would need to be doing to remain stable while moving forward with one crutch under each arm,’’ Lillis said.

“Each hill was a little different, but I’ve tried them all in a one- or two-mile stretch at a time — and I feel good. I’ve been up the Brady Street hill. I done the hills in McClellan Heights and I’ve been on the other shorter hill around the four-mile mark, just to experience it.’’

He plans to have a son on each side every step of the way on race day, helping him work through it and again experience the Bix 7.

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“From that first race where we started at Second Street and ran up Perry Street, this race has always been a challenge, but it is so much more,’’ Lillis said. “From the hills to the out-and-back course to the crowds, it’s a special race.’’

The other three runners share that belief.

Clark recalls watching how the race grew and credits long-time race director Ed Froehlich with creating an event which separates the race from many others.

“For so many of us, the chance to be part of the same race with world-class athletes, Bill Rodgers, Joan Samuelson, Meb Keflezighi, is special,’’ Clark said.

“Factor in the out-and-back course that provides everybody in the field with a chance to see those elite runners compete, it’s a different experience. To see them run, it’s like they are floating on air.’’

Fish said Froehlich’s vision to create that chance to “run with the best’’ provided athletes with a different opportunity.

“Many of the greatest 10-kilometer runners in the world have participated in the Bix at one time or another. It’s a quality race for them and a quality experience for every participant,’’ Fish said.

“The race is exceptionally well managed and the support it has received from its title sponsor, the Quad-City Times, can’t be discounted. It creates a terrific experience for everyone. I’ve always said runners like a good party and the Bix, it’s one of the best.’’

That is only part of the Bix experience.

“The bands along the course, the support from the people along the course and the big party at the end, that is all so Bix,’’ Fischer said. “I’ve ran into people at the postrace party that I hadn’t seen in 20 years. It’s like a reunion.’’

It didn’t start that way.

A former track athlete at Iowa, Fischer recalls playing golf with a friend in Iowa City in the summer of 1975 who asked him if he planned on running the Bix the following week.

“I said, ‘The what?’ and he told me about this run that was going to start in downtown Davenport, had a lot of hills and going to be different than a lot of the road races that were taking place at that time,’’ Fischer said.

“It sounded different, so I trained for a whole week, came to Davenport and got through it and I’ve been coming back ever since.’’

Clark relishes the chance to still tell friends he once finished in the top 100 at the Bix.

“Never mind that there were only 84 of us that first year, but it’s something I can still be proud of,’’ he said.

After running in the first Bix 7, Lillis recalls playing later the same day in a sevens tournament hosted by the Quad-City Irish rugby team.

That won’t be part of the race-day agenda this year, but one thing remains unchanged.

“It goes back to not only the challenge of it, but to the accomplishment of competing and completing the Bix,’’ Lillis said. “It’s something I still take pride in, and I suspect a lot of others do as well.’’

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