Rocket Man makes his mark|’Now I can start out fast and end up fast’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 8, 2009

Since Bradley Monk first laced up his shoes a dozen years ago to go for a trial run with some friends, he’s lost weight, gained a nickname and become a running sensation.

For information and race results, click here

Monk is known to his fellow members of the Mississippi Track Club as Rocket Man. The 33-year-old Vicksburg native placed third Saturday in his age group in the 30th Run Thru History at the Vicksburg National Military Park and first in his age group in January’s Chill in the Hills race.

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Placing among the top finishers has become typical for the Rocket Man, whose only previous athletic experience came when he competed in Special Olympics.

“They called me Rocket Man because I’d start off fast,” Monk said, laughing because he would typically run out of gas after those fast starts. “Now I can start out fast and end up fast.”

Monk ran Saturday’s race with an official time of 44 minutes and 18 seconds, and received a model cannon, this year’s age-group trophy, to add to his wall of medals and shelves of trophies. He was third in a field of 33 men in his age group, and 26 overall, out of 484 runners.

“I didn’t beat my time but that’s OK,” he said, panting and leaning over with his hands on his knees just after crossing the finish line. “For the first three miles I set my PR — 20 minutes,” he said, the initials signifying “personal record,” a runner’s constant goal. “I like that time,” he said with a grin.

“He’s real gung-ho,” said Jack Ward, president of the Mississippi Track Club, which sponsored the race, one in the series of 14 annual Grand Prix races that include events in Natchez, Clinton and Port Gibson. “It’s hard to slow him down, especially since he started winning.”

Though Monk competed in several Special Olympics events as a teen and young man, he did not run or play sports growing up. He graduated from Vicksburg High School in 1993 and was placed by the local social service agency MIDD-West in his janitorial position at Waterways Experiment Station, where he works Monday through Friday.

In June he will mark his 13th year there. He loves his job as much as he loves to run, said his mother, Jo Ann Monk, and he enjoys his co-workers.

“There’s lots of laughing,” Bradley Monk said. “I always try to be in a good mood.”

Monk, 5 foot 7, weighed 210 pounds back in 1997 when some work buddies talked him into giving running a try. When they moved away he kept it up, entering his first race, the Over the River Run, later that year. It was the only time he injured himself running — looking ahead and not at the bridge, he tripped on a bolt, fell and bloodied his knees. But he finished the race.

“I’m not a quitter,” Monk said. “I’ve never quit anything in my whole life.”

Last year he ran 20 races and this year hopes to do 25. He’s lost 70 pounds since those early days, and runs almost every day. He’s cut about 20 minutes off his time in the Run Thru History since first running it in 1998.

“He really does love it,” Jo Ann Monk said. Rocket Man, the youngest of three children, lives at home with his mother. She drives him to all of his races, volunteering at many while he competes. “He does it for the exercise but also just for fun. He’s getting better all the time.”

Monk lives and trains on Oak Ridge Road, putting in four miles every morning running to his church, Ridgeway Baptist, and along neighboring side streets.

Local runners began noticing Monk at races, some learning his nickname the hard way.

“He’s beaten every one of us,” laughed John Duett, owner of Just Duett Sports on Halls Ferry Road. “He’s just an excellent example of how everybody should just get out there and run.”

Noticing that Monk was competing in cotton T-shirts and shorts and old basketball shoes that were too small, Duett invited Monk to the store and outfitted him for Saturday’s race. “His toes were all crumpled up,” Duett said.

Duett fixed the Rocket Man up with New Balance running shoes and moisture-wicking shorts and shirt that would keep him cooler and more comfortable during the run.

“We took our time fitting him,” Duett said. “He tried on a lot of different stuff.”

When they couldn’t get Monk’s favorite color, green, for Vicksburg High School, they settled on orange and white, for the Miami Dolphins, Monk’s favorite football team.

Another local runner, Bill Fulcher, invited the Monks to eat at Friday night’s pasta buffet dinner for the runners.

“The people in the races and in the track club are just like family,” Jo Ann Monk said. “They all love him.”

Monk plans to compete Saturday in the next MTC Grand Prix event, the Legal Beagle 5K in Jackson, and hopes someday to run a marathon.

“He’s a happy kid and loves life,” Jo Ann Monk said.

“Running makes you feel good,” Rocket Man said. “It makes you feel young.”


Contact Pamela Hitchins at