Bill Green wears many hats at North Central University. He is Director of Multicultural Engagement and Community Outreach and this spring served as Co-Interim Track and Field Coach. But after the USATF Masters track meet at Hamline University on June 9, the title Super Hero might need to be added to Green’s resume—or at the very least hurdles champion. He won the 60m hurdles event at the USATF event for the 60–64 age category, actually breaking a state record with a time of 19:05:06.
Green is not a novice when it comes to track and field—it was in fact his ability to run fast that brought him acceptance on the school playground at age 9, when his family moved to Los Angeles from the southern U.S. But running competitive hurdles at age 64 was something he would not have anticipated, especially when he had to give up athletics twice.The first time was when he was a sophomore at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota.
‘I need you to give up football’
While he excelled in athletics all through junior high and high school, Green didn’t want be known only for how fast he could run, and he worked hard to get good grades. “I didn’t consider myself a smart kid,” Green said. “Most people knew I was pretty athletic but I had to work hard to be a top student. I made a commitment to doing well.” Doing well meant he had a 3.9 GPA. Green was actively recruited by St. Olaf and he traveled from Los Angeles halfway across the country after receiving a generous scholarship offer. He was a first-generation college student from his family of six, and he continued to work hard academically and athletically, running tack and playing running back on the football team.
During his second year of college, he was invited by some students to attend a Bible study. “In October of my sophomore year,” Green recalled, “I accepted Christ and had a conversion. It was a Pentecostal experience, where I spoke in tongues, but more than anything I felt a spiritual calling.” Green immersed himself in reading the Bible. “As I read God’s Word,” he explained, “I gained greater understanding. It was as if the words were leaping off the page. I didn’t want to do anything else, just read God’s word.”
His conversion came with a cost, however. “That time was also when God spoke to me about giving up my sports career,” Green said. “I was called to be unwillingly obedient—one of the most traumatic aspects of my early Christian experience. One day I was in my room, praying and reading. I had begun to really seek God, saying, ‘God, if you’re really real, I want to know you for myself.’ I didn’t just want to be religious.
“Out of nowhere, God spoke,” Green recalled: “I need you to give up football.” It was a game day. Green went to put on his uniform and could not put it on. “I stood in front of my locker and I literally could not put it on,” he explained. He told the coach he couldn’t play.
“What do you mean, you can’t play?” the coach asked.
Green replied, “I feel God is doing something in my life.” The coach suggested Green just suit up and they could talk after the game. But when Green once again tried to put the uniform on he could not physically do it. “I remember walking out of the locker room and across the football field,” Green said. “I went to my room and cried. But I knew it wasn’t me.”
That marked the end of athletic competition for that season of his life, but Green entered a period of great spiritual growth. During that time, he started a new ministry on campus and a Christian coffeehouse. “I received a great anointing and blessing,” Green noted, “but I had to give up my sports.”
Fighting for his life
After graduation, Green’s career led to working with youth through Boys and Girls Club and Hospitality House, where he was part of an effort to start a community track team. Working with the youth, Green learned of opportunities for adults to compete, and in his late 30s started to get involved in track once again. He even got back into running hurdles and in 1998 won the indoor championship for hurdles with USATF Masters—even setting the record at that time.
Green returned to St. Olaf as a staff member for many years and continued his involvement in track with USATF. But then came the second time he had to give it up.
In 2012, Green got sick. Very sick. “My liver was shutting down,” he explained, “but they didn’t know why.” Green continued training for his track events but when veins in his esophagus started bursting, doctors determined liver was backing up. “I needed a new liver,” Green said. “I was in the hospital for three weeks when we found out they had a donor,” and he received a liver transplant in 2013.
Due to his health, Green had retired from his job but recovering from his transplant and experiencing continued restoration of his health, he received an invitation from North Central to develop a minority recruitment and retention program in 2014. This past spring, he was asked to serve as interim coach for the Rams track and field team. And the competition bug bit again.
“I hadn’t run hurdles since before I got sick,” Green said. “I was teaching one of the hurdlers and realized, I could still get over these things! I thought, ‘Maybe I could get back into it.’”
Green started his own training regimen and his first meet was June 9. “I knew I wanted to compete,” he said, “I still felt I could break a record.”
And so he did. In his first official meet since his liver transplant, Green cleared 8 of 10 hurdles safely and wound up winning the race with a record time of 19:5:6 for his age category.
Giving something up, gaining more in return
The first time he gave up track, Green was blessed with spiritual growth and a deep relationship with God. The second time, he was blessed with full restoration of health. To return to his passion for running and hurdles after that is not something he takes for granted.
“You hear about comebacks,” Green reflected, “But to me this was more than a comeback. Since the time I ran I was sick—almost dying,—and was able to come back at that level, it’s almost unbelievable. I look at that and ask, ‘Who is that guy?’ I’m amazed to be able to witness that at this time in my life.”
Although Green appreciates the comeback, he appreciates even more the God who is behind it, and he has some advice for others.
“The thing I tell people is to keep hope alive. Don’t give up on yourself. People get to a certain age and start to give up on things they think they shouldn’t. But the more I’m around people who do these things, the more I think I can, too. It’s God’s way of allowing people to see that with Him nothing is impossible. The biggest testimony [in my story] is that God is getting the glory out of all of this.”