Speaker 1: You are listening to Love Maine Radio, hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Topsham. Show summaries are available at lovemaineradio.com.
Lisa Belisle: This is Dr. Lisa Belisle, and you are listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 316, airing for the first time on Sunday, October 8th, 2017. Today’s guests are TD Beach to Beacon 10K runner and running coach Rob Gomez and Larry Wold, president in Maine for TD Bank. Thank you for joining us.
Speaker 1: Portland Art Gallery is proud to sponsor Love Maine Radio. Portland Art Gallery is the city’s largest, and is located in the heart of the Old Port at 154 Middle Street. The gallery focuses on exhibiting the work of contemporary Maine artists and hosts a series of monthly solo shows in its newly expanded space, including Ingunn Joergensen, Brenda Cirioni, Daniel Corey, Jill Hoy, and Dave Allen. For complete show details, please visit our website at artcollectormaine.com.
Lisa Belisle: Rob Gomez is an engineer at General Dynamics OTS in Saco. He also works as an online running coach at the company he started, Eastern Shore Training. This year, he was the second finisher in the Maine men’s division at the TD Beach to Beacon, where he received national attention for helping fallen runner Jesse Orach to complete the race. Thanks for coming in today.
Rob Gomez: Thanks for having me.
Lisa Belisle: I love having fellow runners in the studio with me. The Beach to Beacon, that was kind of an intense situation for you, wasn’t it?
Rob Gomez: Oh, yeah.
Lisa Belisle: Like, make the decision. “There’s a guy down, he’s my friend. Pick him up? Do well, get my time?”
Rob Gomez: Yeah, I mean, there really wasn’t a lot of time to make a decision. It was kind of like… The way that the situation unfolded, there was about three or four seconds to probably decide what to do, and so I did what I guess kind of came instinctively, was to grab him, grab Jesse and help him to the finish line. And I’ve had a lot of time over the last month, since it happened, to go back and think about why, and I’ve been asked why on numerous occasions, and I think it’s just because I honestly felt like there was part of a runners’ code that was involved in that. I didn’t feel like, based on how close he was to the finish and how far ahead he was in the race, I didn’t feel like I deserved to win, and had I passed him and crossed the finish line, it wouldn’t have felt like… It would have felt like a hollow victory to me. So that was… I wanted to make sure that he got what he deserved, in my opinion, and some people disagree with that, but I can sleep at night, so….
Lisa Belisle: So people disagree with that?
Rob Gomez: Oh, yeah.
Lisa Belisle: You’ve actually had people who have said, “Why’d you do that?”
Rob Gomez: Yeah. And, I mean, it’s not really, and they have a… People have a point in saying, the race is 10,000 kilometers, it’s a 10,000-kilometer race. Jesse completed 75, 50 to 75 meters short of 10,000 meters. He didn’t make it to the finish line on his own power, and so therefore, he didn’t win the 10,000-meter… The Maine division of the 10,000-meter race. He won 9.99 kilometers. So people do have a point in that regard, but really, the decision ultimately fell to me and the finish line referees at Beach to Beacon, and we all decided that we’d let the results stand as they are, so that’s… I’m glad they decided that way, so it…. Yeah, people do have their different opinions about that, and I understand that, and I respect that, but I’m glad it worked out the way that it did.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah, that’s interesting, because I think that, you know, you’re talking about any sort of sport where you have to set guidelines, you have to create a set of rules, and running is actually somewhat easier in some ways, because it’s “get from A to B,” and you have to just… And you be fast. But when people train as hard as they do to be elite athletes, and somehow the rules seem like they’re broached, then that can be kind of hard to swallow, I guess.
Rob Gomez: Absolutely, and I think there’s … Running is a community in which there’s, I mean, there’s a lot of respect for the purity of the sport. When something comes … When there’s information brought to light where someone had been taking performance-enhancing drugs or had been cheating, there’s a large group of people who basically rage against that particular incident. There’s also people who check to make sure that there aren’t individuals that are trying to submit false qualifying times for, say, the Boston Marathon. There’s a large community that makes sure that qualifying times from Boston Marathon are accurate. So I think running, more than other sports, there’s a large… There’s a push to keep it as legitimate and pure as possible, and so that’s why there may be some people that view what happened in a less favorable light.
But I think, given the context of what happened, it wasn’t like Jesse and I were competing for a spot at the Olympics, and it also wasn’t like it was first overall in the entire race, which I think we’d have a different discussion. There would be more discussion about what to do. But given the fact that it was the Maine division, which ultimately, in the grand scheme of things, is not as important, and given that all the parties directly involved all agreed in what happened, I think it was… I think pretty much everyone is okay with it, but had the context been different, I think you’d see a different reaction with the public at large.
Lisa Belisle: So what we’re ultimately talking about is sportsmanship.
Rob Gomez: Yeah, I guess you could say that, sure.
Lisa Belisle: Which sometimes does come in conflict with competition and with actually winning.
Rob Gomez: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: Sometimes, the people who are nice are not the people who finish first.
Rob Gomez: Right, right.
Lisa Belisle: So that’s kind of a funny dissonance, I think, for many people.
Rob Gomez: Yeah, I mean, obviously, there are people much smarter than I, and people who have broken this down a lot more than I have, so I don’t really have a lot of insight as to what sportsmanship is as compared to competition, competitiveness, whatnot. But I think, as far as the personal experience that I have in the incident that happened, I feel like it’s more important to have a strong running community in Maine, it’s more important to have good sportsmanship amongst that community, so the fact that I could’ve said, “Okay, I’m the first Mainer,” I could’ve made a few more dollars in prize money, isn’t worth the amount of friendship, camaraderie, and good… I guess, good publicity for the running community that this has all generated. I mean, it’s really… This has been really good for the running community at large, especially in Maine, and for Beach to Beacon, it’s been good for Beach to Beacon as well. So I think the way that things turned out, this has really been… I mean, this has really been a great thing. It’s kind of a ramble, sorry.
Lisa Belisle: No, I have to agree with you. I think that… What I’m wondering about, for you, is you talked about the runners’ code, and for you, there’s something that, wherever that came from, I don’t know, a combination of your upbringing, your training, and your own personal outlook on life, there’s something that’s there. And I think that really does jibe with the way that many of us like to live life here in Maine.
Rob Gomez: I think it does, and I think if… At every opportunity that I’ve had, I’ve tried to express to people that what I did is not… It’s not heroic. What I did does not mean that I am a special individual. I am just a representative of the Maine community, you know, the running community in Maine, but also the Maine community at large. I truly feel that it’s a very Mainer thing to do that, and I feel that, given… If someone else, some other Mainer were in my shoes, they would have done the same thing. And maybe not everyone would have, but I really do feel, by and large, people would have, especially Mainers. That’s what I feel, and I try to… Every opportunity I get, I try to express that, so thanks for giving me the platform to express it again.
Lisa Belisle: You were raised in Waldoboro.
Rob Gomez: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Lisa Belisle: And your mother, you said, has worked at Moody’s Diner for…
Rob Gomez: Oh, give her 40 plus or minus five years. It’s been a long time. She’s worked there ever since she got out of high school.
Lisa Belisle: So you really have had a sense of what it means to be in Maine, to be a Mainer, and to be a runner in Maine.
Rob Gomez: Yeah, yeah, I have. I grew up, born, raised in Waldoboro. I spent two years at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone, then I went to undergrad at Bates College in Lewiston, and then I went to grad school at UMO and lived in Orono for a few years, and since I’ve been down here working at General Dynamics, I’ve lived in Biddeford, Portland, you know, Windham. So the joke I tell people is, I’ve lived all over the state, but I’ve never been able to make it out, but the truth is, I don’t want to make it out. I’ve seen a lot of the state, I know a lot of people all over the state, and we’re all… I mean, there’s different ways of living here in the state, but there is a true Mainer quality that really sort of permeates throughout the entire state, and the running community throughout the state is a part of that.
Lisa Belisle: Talk to me about your evolution as a runner. When did you start?
Rob Gomez: I started… I tried it out my seventh grade year at middle school in Waldoboro, and after that, I decided to try soccer my eighth grade year, and that was a disaster. The soccer team scored one goal the entire year, and the cross-country team went on to win the local middle school championship, so I was like, “That was a bad idea.” But in high school, I started running at Medomak Valley, and I made the varsity team, had a little bit of success there, but I never really took it seriously until I went up to the Maine School of Science and Math.
I think there was a lot of freedom to… A lot of time and freedom to sort of focus on different things, and there’s a lot of wide open space up there, so I think that inspired me to run a lot more, and that’s what I think pushed me to the level of success that I achieved in high school, when I was… I got a couple cross-country state championships, Class D, which no longer exists in cross-country. But that propelled me to run in college, and so on and so forth, so… Yeah, so I’ve basically been running since then, with a little bit of an interruption in there.
Lisa Belisle: So, as part of running, it’s both a team sport and an individual sport. It’s really something where you have to be self-motivated. But you also had to be pretty self-motivated up at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics. I mean, the types of things that you’ve done in your life require a lot of focus.
Rob Gomez: Yeah, and I think the experiences that I’ve had in my life have been conducive to generating that focus. There’s been… Someone… Actually, a podcast that I did earlier, there was a discussion of maybe someone who’s into the scientific disciplines, someone who’s very calculated, maybe more left-side brain, is more apt to be into something like running, because running takes discipline, it takes a schedule, it takes routine, and I think those… Not that people with right-side brain can’t do that, and I know a lot of runners who are artists, creative types, whatnot, but I think you’re given a little bit of a… I think you’re more predisposed to running if you have more of a scientific mind. I don’t know, but that’s the discussion that it was, but I certainly think that my career path and my running path, for me, personally, are intertwined.
Lisa Belisle: So, as someone who… I mean, I have not gotten to the level that you are at, as far as winning races, but I have been running for most of my life, and probably starting a little bit younger, but… But for me, the hard days are January, you know, get up and … I’m an outside runner, so I always… I’m never on a treadmill inside. It’s the less than zero-degree weather, it’s the darkness, it’s the cold. Somehow, I figure out a way to do that. How do you figure out a way to do that?
Rob Gomez: Well, I… Running’s literally a physical addiction, and I could say without a doubt that I’m addicted to it. And so if I don’t get my endorphin rush, after a couple of days, I start to get cranky, life doesn’t seem to be quite as bright and happy, I could tell that I’m missing something. I mean, it’s not a complete crash, but I could tell, “Okay, I need to make myself happy.” So running provides an endorphin rush that I get, and if I have to go out in 20-below weather and bundle up, and have the moisture from my breath freeze in my eyebrows and my eyelids and I can’t see, so what? It’s worth it, and so I think that definitely plays a big part of it.
Lisa Belisle: So it’s not really something that you have to overcome, the dark and the cold, you just… Internally, you have this push to get out there.
Rob Gomez: Well, I think we all overcome it, it’s just the push is stronger than the deterrent, for me, at least, and for everyone else who wants to get out there and run in the cold and dark and whatnot, but it’s… I don’t know, after a while, after you’ve been out there for a while and you warm up, you kind of enjoy it, and then I think being out there and knowing that you’re one of the only ones braving that, it’s kind of a cool feeling.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah, I would agree, and I find that when I don’t run, not only do I feel a little bit anxious, but I also miss the outdoors, I miss the seasons. Even just one day, I feel like I’m not somehow connected with what’s going on around me.
Rob Gomez: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: Do you run when you go to other places?
Rob Gomez: I love to. In fact, I go to other places just to run, so I actually … Yesterday, I wanted to go to the White Mountains, I did a run up in the White Mountains, in the main portion of the White Mountains, in an area that I hadn’t been to, at least in the summertime. I’d hiked in the winter, but I went up there and loved it, and when you’re in that moment, you do realize, you know, I have the luxury of being able to run in places like this and really soak it all in. So I know exactly what you mean, in that running is kind of like a vehicle to just experience as much of the outdoors as you can, especially in Maine.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah, I find that if I go to a new place and I don’t run, then I feel like something went wrong. I have to have that sort of full-body sensory experience to really have been kind of placed there as an individual, versus being in a car and just kind of going past things.
Rob Gomez: Yeah, I think there’s definitely a much bigger, a much more indulgent experience running in some place than driving in it. Yeah, oh, absolutely.
Lisa Belisle: So it sounds like you also do… You do roads and trails, if you’re talking about running in the White Mountains.
Rob Gomez: Yeah, yeah.
Lisa Belisle: And so you’re not really limited by… You don’t have to have specifically a flat surface in any given place; wherever you are, you go.
Rob Gomez: Yeah, I think if you live in Maine and you run in Maine, I think you’re kind of missing a little bit of the fun if you don’t go out into the woods or into the trails and try to get as much of it as possible, so that’s… I try to run on trails. I don’t run enough on trails; I should do more. My ankles are telling me that I ran on trails yesterday. They hurt a lot. But I try to get on trails quite a bit, because it’s awesome.
Lisa Belisle: So, obviously, Beach to Beacon was one of your goal races, or I’m guessing, because you did really well in it, so….
Rob Gomez: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: What is your preferred distance? What do you like to run?
Rob Gomez: For me, as far as standard road racing distances, the longer the better. I haven’t got into ultras yet, maybe someday, but I’m more of a marathon guy, so that’s what I’m training for right now.
Lisa Belisle: So what’s your next marathon?
Rob Gomez: Philadelphia Marathon. It’s the weekend before Thanksgiving, and there’s actually a number of Mainers who are going down to run that together, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Lisa Belisle: Why specifically the Philadelphia Marathon? What’s so good about that one?
Rob Gomez: Two reasons for me, specifically. I can’t speak for other people, but for me, it’s later on in the fall, so that there’s really no chance of it being hot. I don’t run well in hot weather. I can handle a 30, 35-degree day for a race; if it’s 75, 80, it’s not going to go well, so running that late in November in Philadelphia pretty much rules out a hot race. And it’s later on in the season, so that it gives me an opportunity to get as much training in as possible. If the Maine Marathon, which is a great marathon, that’s in less than four weeks now… There’s MDI Marathon, which comes right after that, there’s Chicago coming up … I felt like I didn’t have enough time to really get in the training that I wanted, so I picked Philadelphia. It gave me another, I guess, chunk of time in order to get ready for it, which hopefully will help. We’ll see.
Lisa Belisle: So it sounds like you pretty much are always in training for something, just to kind of keep yourself motivated, I guess.
Rob Gomez: Yeah, yeah. I was joking with my wife last night that I can’t really remember the last time I didn’t have a training plan for something. And there’s probably something to be said for taking a chunk of time and not having a goal like that, not having a focus, and just relaxing and enjoying running for what it is. I’m not really programmed like that, but I do try to take a little time each year, at least a week or two, where there’s no goals on the horizon, and I can just relax and enjoy running for what it is.
Lisa Belisle: Does your wife run?
Rob Gomez: She does. She doesn’t run as much as I do, which is probably a good thing, but she… You know, she kind of has a love-hate relationship with it, where she’ll get into a training plan, she’ll like it, and then there’ll be injury, or life happens, which most people struggle with. It’s life gets in the way, or an injury pops up, and then it’s hard to get back into it, and so that’s… I think right now, she’s in kind of a lull, a running lull, but she’s getting back into it, and so it’s… We try to encourage each other with our running.
Lisa Belisle: Do you run together?
Rob Gomez: We do, not all the time. I like to chat and converse when I’m running, and she’s not like that. And I know a lot of runners don’t like to talk when they run, they like to focus on running, or just zone out, and so I’m over here on, you know, over to her side, trying to chit-chat and talk about everything, and she’s like, “Just be quiet, let me run.” So it can be an interesting dynamic when we’re running together, but we do get out there sometimes.
Lisa Belisle: You know, that is a really interesting point, because I don’t mind running with other people — I have a significant other, and I run with him — and I find myself being the chatter in general, and he often is quiet, and I’m kind of waiting for him to talk, and it doesn’t always happen, and I’m thinking, “Is there something wrong?” But it’s probably just a difference in the internal self, you know, whatever it is that each person really is experiencing, I guess, as a runner.
Rob Gomez: Yeah, I mean, it’s… I think different people get different things out of it. I mean, we all get similar things out of it, but beyond that, there’s … You know, you or I may, in a group run, we may get a very beneficial social aspect out of it, where other people, they just want to find their happy place, their zen, when they’re out there, and so that’s… I like those days too. I like my runs where I go out solo, and I don’t talk to anyone. Those are good too, so I can understand that.
Lisa Belisle: So, talk to me about coaching. This is something that you’ve, I guess, had some success with, probably based on the fact that you’ve had some success as a runner.
Rob Gomez: Yeah. In 2014, I started Eastern Shore Training. It was just… It isn’t really… To be honest, it’s not a service that pays the bills, it’s more of a side gig where I … Allows me to reach out into the running community a little more, and have a bigger footprint there, and sort of help people with their running goals. So I try to help as many people as I can, all age ranges, all ability levels, and so far, it’s been a very rewarding experience.
Lisa Belisle: So in that case, you must need to understand different types of running personalities: the solo runners, the group runners, the people who like to go shorter, the people who like to go longer. That’s kind of a different type of mind blend that you’re using, perhaps, than what you do with General Dynamics.
Rob Gomez: Yeah. I mean, it’s been a learning experience as I’ve gone on, because I’ve… I’m a particular type of runner. I know me, I know what I need, and obviously, not everyone’s like that, so as I’ve been doing this online coaching — because it’s primarily online coaching — I’ve had to change running plans and encourage people in different ways that reflect the different type of runners that they are. Some people really need a lot of encouragement to get out the door; some people need to be told to… Don’t run so much, slow down, don’t bite off so much at one time, and so it’s been… I’ve learned a lot in the process in order to try to be able to work with everyone.
Lisa Belisle: You also have a really nice kind of statewide team that you work with as a runner, and that must be very motivating.
Rob Gomez: Yeah. The team is called Dirigo Running Club. It’s sponsored by Fleet Feet Maine Running, which is right down the road here, and you’re right, it is statewide, I think it’s got over a hundred members now. And it’s a competitive team, so there is a qualifying standard for it, but if you do get in, it’s a big, fun group, there’s a lot of competitiveness involved, and you kind of… You rally around each other as a team. Say, like at Beach to Beacon, there were tons of us there, and we all got together, got a group picture, and we really fed off each other as a group. So it is, it’s a good motivating experience to be a part of this team, you’re right.
Lisa Belisle: One of the things that I like about running is that it can be lifelong, unless you get injured in some way, and then you’re precluded from running when you’re older. But some of the people… I mean, we interviewed Joan Benoit Samuelson here, and obviously, she’s still out there on the course, doing ridiculously well. And I look at people who are like her, in her 60s, or even people who are in their 80s, that they’re out there, and they’re still doing it, and it really makes me happy that this is something that so many of us just tune into and want to keep doing.
Rob Gomez: Yeah. I think most runners, as long as their, like you said, as their body will hold up, they’ll keep doing it, and I … There aren’t that many activities that adults can do, that they can do lifelong like this, and that’s why I think the running community is so tight-knit and so, really, so big, relative to other communities, is that it’s something that you could do your entire life. I hope I can do it. I mean, knock on wood, hopefully my legs will hold up, but I’d like to be involved with the running community as much as possible, whether I’m actually running or not.
Lisa Belisle: I’ve also seen, since I started doing road races — and I took some time off from really being competitive, but I’ve started to kind of ramp up again — that the interest level has just… It’s just exploded. I mean, the number of really nice road races that we have around the state, the number of people that come from out of state. I was at the Boothbay Half Marathon this weekend, and there were 120 people signed up to run this pretty hilly course around Boothbay. Maybe not the easiest, but people liked it, they were excited about it. And that’s kind of fun, given that Maine can be a state with fairly extreme weather sometimes.
Rob Gomez: Yeah. I mean, I think over the past 15, 20 years, it’s really exploded, with the color runs, there’s color runs, there’s different relays, there’s, I mean, even the Spartan Races. I mean, that’s a little different, that’s more cross-training, but the Spartan Races, and those kind of… The mud runs, whatever, it’s… I think there’s been a lot of way of trying to involve as many people as possible, and I think that’s great. The more people that are involved with running… I’m biased, but the more people that are involved with running, the better, in my opinion. I think there’s a lot of benefits for that.
Lisa Belisle: As a result of what happened at the Beach to Beacon, you’ve obviously been asked to speak with a lot of different news agencies, you’ve been doing podcast and print and online interviews, and television. This has become… This has given you a platform. Does this surprise you, as… You’re a guy who runs, and you helped your friend, and now all these people are interested in talking to you. Like, does that in any way speak to some bigger need in the world, to have a happy story, I guess?
Rob Gomez: I mean, I guess. I think you nailed it. I really think there’s just… There was just probably a hunger for some good news. And on the grand scale and the grand scheme of things, this little incident’s really not that important, but people just sort of latched onto it as a bit of good news, and it’s a sign that things are still pretty good, I suppose. So I think that’s why it got the legs that it did, and that’s why it went viral, so to speak, and I’m just… I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time to be a part of it, and I keep telling people that my 15 minutes of fame will just about be up pretty soon, I hope, but I’m just glad that what I did was able to give people a good moment, at least for a little while.
Lisa Belisle: So, for people who are listening who might be considering signing up for a race, they’re not really sure, do you have any words of wisdom?
Rob Gomez: Yes, I do. It can be intimidating. The hardest part about running is just starting out. That is the hardest part. That may not encourage anyone to just get into it, but it’s really, everything gets a lot better from there, and the best part about running is really the feeling of accomplishment after you’re done. No matter how fast you go or how far you go, as long as you hit the goal that you’re trying to reach, and finish the race, or run, or whatever that you’re trying to do, there is a really good sense of accomplishment there. And the good part about it is, with running, there’s people all around you that are willing to celebrate that achievement with you, so it’s really… It’s an awesome thing, and the more people that do it, the better.
Lisa Belisle: I’ve been speaking with Rob Gomez, who is an engineer at General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems in Saco. He recently did very well in the Maine men’s division, second, I believe.
Rob Gomez: Yup.
Lisa Belisle: Would’ve been first, but the two of you together… And has received national attention for helping fallen runner Jesse Orach to complete the race. I really appreciate you coming in, and I guess I appreciate the fact that I’m part of your 15 minutes of fame now, and I appreciate you being a part of the Maine running community and really presenting such a positive face, so thank you.
Rob Gomez: Thank you. Pleasure being here.
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Lisa Belisle: Larry Wold is president in Maine for TD Bank and has over 30 years of commercial lending experience. I also happen to know he’s a runner and ran the TD Beach to Beacon, and I think had a pretty good time, if I’m remembering correctly.
Larry Wold: I was able to crack the top 10 in my age group for the first time ever, having run all 20.
Lisa Belisle: Oh wow, I didn’t even realize that you were that guy, that you’ve actually… What do they call them, legacy runners?
Larry Wold: Legacy runners, yes.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah.
Larry Wold: Originally, they were referring to us as streakers, but it’s sort of morphed now into legacy runners.
Lisa Belisle: Is that because the runners who streak have a different connotation?
Larry Wold: Yeah, I think my mother took it the wrong way, and so they started changing it.
Lisa Belisle: That’s good. It all comes back to your mother, doesn’t it?
Larry Wold: It does.
Lisa Belisle: We have to make her happy. So that’s kind of an interesting thing, that you finally were able to crack that, and you’ve been running for such a long time. What was it about this year that got you there?
Larry Wold: Well, I think to some degree, attrition becomes your friend in these events, but really was kind of a rededication, and started back this year, running a little more regularly with a younger group of guys that runs at noontime. I had been running more frequently with more folks my age, and by shifting to run with the younger guys, it just forces you to pick the tempo up a little bit.
Lisa Belisle: And how about your son? Does your son also run with you?
Larry Wold: Well, we… You know, we ran together quite a while ago, but he is… At this point, one of them, Eric, is quite a bit faster than I am, he’s got much younger legs, and his older brother, Brian, is a great athlete, but not a runner. So he has run a number of them, but we don’t end up running together.
Lisa Belisle: See, I had that experience also, that my son, Campbell, who knows your son, he agreed to run with me in the Maine Marathon last year, and then realized that his 23-year-old legs were much faster than his mother’s legs, which were roughly twice his age. So he was very nice and ran with me the first half, and then the second half, he’s like, “Well, I think I just need to go faster.” It’s kind of humbling, isn’t it?
Larry Wold: It is, but it’s also, you know, you’re glad your kids are active and outdoors and capable of that stuff.
Lisa Belisle: Of course.
Larry Wold: So it’s a… Like so many things, kind of a mixed reaction to it.
Lisa Belisle: Well, and I was really glad with Campbell, because he was always a soccer player, and he was a baseball player, so running, for him, has been something that has kind of come to him in the last few years.
Larry Wold: Yeah, he, like Brian, needs a ball to chase. But then you discover that that gets harder and harder as the years go by, finding a group to do that with, and running is something… Takes very little gear, and you can do it by yourself, kind of any time, any place.
Lisa Belisle: I do love that about running.
Larry Wold: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: And about running in Maine, because it’s so beautiful here.
Larry Wold: Yes, there are any number of just fabulous places to get out and go.
Lisa Belisle: So why is it that TD Bank decided to become a sponsor of the TD Beach to Beacon?
Larry Wold: The story goes back to when we were People’s Heritage Bank, and we were looking for some recognizable faces to be spokespeople for the bank, and we had approached Joan Benoit Samuelson about becoming the official spokesperson for the bank, and she came in for the meeting to just kind of talk about it, and on her way out of the meeting, noticed that our then-president, Bill Ryan, had a photograph on his table of him finishing the New York Marathon, and that started the conversation about marathoning and running, and Joanie’s dream of this race. And then we had some initial meetings, and it was originally going to be us and another major company that were going to sponsor it. Kind of at the 11th hour, they opted not to participate, and so we stepped in, then as People’s, and underwrote the first race, and it has taken off in a way I don’t think even people like Joanie, who dream big, I think it’s even probably outpaced her expectations a little bit.
Lisa Belisle: It seems appropriate, in some ways, because it’s become an international race, and TD Bank is an international company, so you probably have the kind of name recognition as a bank, internationally, as she does now for the runners.
Larry Wold: I’ve talked about the fact that the evolution of the race and the evolution of the bank have been kind of consistent, you know, going from local to regional to national to international, and also, we like to think, having proved that both the race and the bank can perform on a worldwide stage. It’s been a great partnership.
Lisa Belisle: How did you get into banking? What was… I know that you have education in the banking field, and you’ve been doing this a long time, so what was the original draw?
Larry Wold: Well, I originally… I came to Maine originally as a summer camp kid, and by the time I was probably 12, I knew I wanted to live in Maine, and it was that same sort of innocent view of it that so many summer camp and college kids have, and then the recognition that you actually needed to have a job for that to work. And at the time, my father was serving a term as president of the board of the Greater Portland Chamber, and there was a guy on the executive committee with him who ran a bank, and I was introduced to him, and they had a wonderful training program that I was put into. And so it was not quite accidental, because I knew I wanted to end up in the business world, and in the professional end of it, but I didn’t imagine I’d be at it still, 30-plus years later.
Lisa Belisle: That seems unusual, I mean, for people to stay in a field for that length of time.
Larry Wold: I think it was much more typical a while ago, but today, to have been not only in the same industry for 30-plus years, but to have been now at the same bank for almost 27 years, is unusual, because I think we’ve recognized that you need to push yourself professionally and expand your professional horizons, to have that… That it’s okay to really want to be professionally fulfilled. And where I’ve been fortunate is, while I’ve been in the same building for almost 30 years, it’s really been several completely different organizations, because it was a local community bank, and it’s worked its way up to now being this international company. So I haven’t had to leave the building or the profession or the company to have those different experiences and get that kind of fulfillment.
Lisa Belisle: I do remember, having lived in Maine myself for the entire time that you’ve been in banking, I remember People’s Heritage very well, and it was always kind of a mystery to me — I guess I was younger, and maybe that’s why it was a mystery, but — as to why this evolution did take place. So why, in banking, have we seen this movement from small, local community banks to ones that are affiliated worldwide?
Larry Wold: There are probably several factors that play a role in that, but as you may recall, back… I mean, when I started, you weren’t allowed, there wasn’t what we called interstate banking — if you were licensed in Massachusetts or New Hampshire, you couldn’t then bank people in Maine — and so it originally started by passing these interstate banking laws. And then, you know, companies need to change and grow, and there are different strategies to do that, and doing it by acquisition becomes one strategy. And interestingly, what happens then is if you do a couple of these acquisitions, you recognize, “Okay, we need to have people dedicated to this and really good at it,” because executing on it is the critical piece.
Well, then you have a team of professionals who you need to keep busy, and it almost feeds on itself, that, “Okay, well, we’ve done this one, and now we’ve got to go find the next one to keep people happy,” or keep them busy. And at the same time, because of the, to some degree, the regulatory climate, which creates a lot of overhead you have to spread out, and the Internet, to some degree, which has kind of made the banking business a little bit more of a commodity, the only way to… One way to adjust to that is scale, is get bigger, and so we… It’s one of those interesting things, that there was kind of never this public policy debate about “do we want big banks or little banks,” but yet behaved in a way that drove the banks to be bigger and bigger. You even see it today with the local community banks that have a town name at the very beginning of them, that now are all expanding and growing into each other’s territories, so it’s been an interesting process.
Lisa Belisle: Well, and I know that one of my banks is TD Bank, which I think your tagline is “America’s most convenient bank”?
Larry Wold: Correct.
Lisa Belisle: And one of the reasons I have kept this account is because you’ve done things within your industry which previously were unheard of, with expanded hours and weekend hours, and that really made a big difference to me, that banks were known for these sort of… Well, they used to call them “banker’s hours,” right?
Larry Wold: Right.
Lisa Belisle: They were very short, and if you were still working when you needed to deposit your check, then, you know, you were out of luck.
Larry Wold: You were just out of luck, yeah.
Lisa Belisle: And I think trying to respond to the marketplace has really made a big difference.
Larry Wold: It has, and once one person does that, then the next… You know, your competitors do it, and then you’ve got to find the next thing to do. So it really drives the industry, which I think has been very healthy, to make it… I mean, I’m sure it’s no different in this business, that when a competitor tries something new that works, you have to respond to it, and then if you want to differentiate yourself, you’ve got to try something new beyond that. And it drives the innovation that I think is what, first of all, makes being in business interesting, but it’s also what’s driven our country to be such an innovator and do so many wonderful things that they’ve done.
Lisa Belisle: My understanding is that TD is a Canadian bank. Has there been any… I don’t know, has there been any shifting within the banking industry as a result of TD having this, I guess, cultural influence from a different country?
Larry Wold: So it’s been, yeah, it’s been, as our Canadian colleagues say, quite a process, and the goal is to be a North American bank, but having two different regulatory climates would have made that challenging to begin with, but the financial crisis of 2008-2009 probably made that even more complicated than it had been. And a number of the Canadian banks had tried to come down here to the United States and establish a foothold, and quite frankly, none of them had had any success, and so there was a lot of skepticism when TD announced that it was buying Banknorth.
And it fortunately has been very successful; we actually now have more retail locations in the United States than we have in Canada, and not a whole lot of people south of the border know, necessarily, that “TD” stands for “Toronto Dominion.” I love the story that our CEO was vacationing up on the coast of Canada a couple years ago, and he heard a couple of people with sort of that heavy New York, New Jersey kind of accent say to each other as they saw the TD Bank story up there, “Jeez, I didn’t know TD was in Canada now,” as though it was a… Everything starts in the United States and migrates north.
Lisa Belisle: And you have had a very strong interest in also trying to develop a community presence in Maine, so not only are you trying to make things kind of uniform throughout the TD system in North America, but you also have tried to work with Maine businesses to, I guess, generate greater success and economic stability.
Larry Wold: Yeah, it’s an interesting balancing act, because there are cultural differences, and differences in how economies work in various places, so you have to find that balance between uniformity and consistency, which you have to have to manage something on this scale, but also remain flexible and adaptable locally. And I think the banks generally, and I know TD in particular has recognized we have a role to play in community development, and typically, that’s economic development, but not necessarily limited to that.
You know, one of the things we love about the TD Beach to Beacon is it has created economic opportunities for people and really become, to some degree, a little business all by itself, and driven revenue into the community, but it’s also been great from the standpoint that it gets people outdoors and active, it’s family fun. I always talk about what a great, diverse event it is, right? Because it doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, male or female, fast or slow, fully capable of running or need a wheelchair or a handcycle to do it. It kind of throws the doors open for anybody who wants to articipate in the event, even if all you do is volunteer.
Lisa Belisle: One of the things that you mentioned to our Maine Magazine managing editor, Paul Koenig, in the financial issue is that you’ve enjoyed seeing the new uses that some of our more traditional industries once had — for example, mills, the mill buildings that are being repurposed into spaces for creatives — and I thought that was an interesting comment, that you’re seeing almost this recycling of, or repurposing of things. And as a bank, is there ever any, I guess, risk in trying to lend to entrepreneurs who are engaging in these new businesses?
Larry Wold: I think there always is, and that’s the challenge for us, is to figure out who you do business with and how you do business with them, but there’s always… If you’re not willing to take that on and manage it, you wouldn’t survive in the business, and there are lots of agencies that we work with, the Finance Authority of Maine, the Small Business Administration, local kinds of organizations that provide support to more startup kind of entrepreneurs. And then as people develop a track record, it becomes easier to manage that risk. You almost never make it go… You don’t ever make it go away; you just learn to manage it and find ways to work with it, so that it’s mitigated to the appropriate degree, I hope. But I think about our, even our operations in Maine. You know, our operations center up in Lewiston is in an old textile mill, and we have a state-of-the-art call center that’s in a shopping center, in an old store in the shopping center, so we’ve really sort of not just supported other people doing it, but we’ve kind of supported the process by taking part in it ourselves.
Lisa Belisle: You and I both have children of the same age — my son was in your son’s wedding over this Labor Day weekend — and for me as a parent, knowing that there’s a place to return to, should my children want to return to Maine, is really important. How do you feel about the opportunities that we’re presenting to the next generation?
Larry Wold: Well, I think we’re very keyed into it as a business community, and certainly as a bank, we’ve got a real focus on trying to attract and retain the millennial generation, who, quite frankly, I think have a bad reputation, an ill-deserved bad reputation. We’ve got a number of young folks working for us who are just as hardworking and hungry and dedicated as anybody in a previous generation was. They are motivated differently sometimes, and their work patterns are a little different, but they’re no less motivated to do their best and to be successful. But I think that the demographic shift we’re undergoing is going to be interesting, and it’s because there’s going to be such a demand for workers that there is going to be a lot more opportunity in Maine. We just need to make sure it’s good opportunity, and the opportunity that people are interested in.
Lisa Belisle: So we obviously had this very significant financial crisis about 10 years ago now. Do you feel like we’re out of it?
Larry Wold: Oh, I think we’re out of it from the standpoint of it being a crisis, and I think we’ve been out of that for quite some time. I think people actually probably are starting to lose sight of how close that was to the meltdown everybody really feared. I mean, there was a point in time there where you, almost on a daily basis, didn’t quite know what was going to happen next. So we’re clearly well past that, and I think if you look in Maine in particular, housing prices, as a rule, have come back to those pre-recession levels, employment is back up to that level.
But in some ways, you never put that… I mean, certain people won’t ever be able to put it behind them, because it interrupted their professional career, or the housing crisis caught them at a bad time, and they might have lost a job as a result of that, and the value in their house declined, and they weren’t able to keep it. So those people still need a lot of help and support, and there is opportunity out there, and we’re… You know, there’s a real fighting spirit to those of us who are in Maine. Whether you were born here or not, I don’t think makes any difference. If you’ve come here, you have to have a certain toughness about you just to begin with, and so those efforts will continue.
Lisa Belisle: I think about my… Again, thinking about my kids, our kids, and the fact that these were their growing years, you know, this is the financial crisis that they remember being a part of. You know, they were deciding where to go to college, and they were seeing people around them lose their houses and lose their jobs, and at least the ones that are in their 20s now, they’re very aware of having come through this. And that’s kind of a difference between my generation, our generation, and theirs.
Larry Wold: Yeah.
Lisa Belisle: It’s a real sense that things aren’t as stable as they seem.
Larry Wold: But every generation faces a different set of circumstances, but I see it even from my oldest to my youngest in terms of the job environment when they graduated from college. You know, when our oldest was out, it was… Jobs were not plentiful, it was pretty challenging to find good work opportunities, and now, Lindsay having just graduated, there… You know, people are almost clamoring to hire young people with good training and education. So it has been an interesting shift, and they just, as we talked earlier, right, they see the world differently, and we were laughing about it at Eric’s wedding over the weekend that when my friends were getting married, we all owned cars and rented tuxedos, and this generation all bought suits to wear so they’d have something to wear afterwards, and they rent their cars, and they have a whole different approach to how they do things. And in a way, the smartphone has replaced the automobile as how you connect with people. You don’t have to drive around and drive to someplace anymore; they can connect instantly, just with something in their pocket.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah, it is an interesting point that you’re making, that it’s just a placement of their priorities, their funds, their energy, and it’s not really a good or a bad thing, it’s just the way that they are, versus… And not even all of them. I mean, that’s the one thing I think about when we talk about generations, like the millennials: not everybody falls into the exact pattern that we expect every millennial to fall into.
Larry Wold: Right.
Lisa Belisle: The same way that, as a Generation Xer, I’m not like everybody in my generation. So I think that ability to look at patterns, but not always pigeonhole people, is very important.
Larry Wold: Yeah, and I saw something fascinating not too many years ago, it was a reprint of two newspaper articles that basically was talking about this next generation, and they don’t have the same work ethic as us, and they’ve had it too easy, and that whole storyline that you hear over and over again, and the first one was written in, like, the 1870s, and the second one written in the 1940s, and I’m sure you could find another one that was written sometime in the 2000s. And so everybody looks back and thinks they had it harder and had to work more than everybody else, and we’ve managed to thrive pretty well with each successive generation coming along. And I think we hardly got everything right, so I think there’s a good chance they’ll have the opportunity to fix some of the things we didn’t do very well.
Lisa Belisle: I think that’s probably true, and knowing my field, the field of medicine, I’m encouraged to see Campbell and his peers going into what some people are describing as sort of a crisis time, but this is just… They’re just there, so to them, this is medicine, and they’re going to experience it differently, and they’re probably, hopefully, working with people that have been there in the field for a while, going to come up with some new solutions and a new approach, and I think it’s really going to benefit all of us.
Larry Wold: Yeah, and I don’t think medicine is broken, by any means. To the contrary, it’s doing such great things. It’s the business of medicine that is in turmoil right now, and that’ll sort itself out. I’ve got to believe it. It’s too fundamentally important to not get figured out at some point.
Lisa Belisle: Well, I agree, so we’ll just have to keep working on this issues with all the people who are ahead of us, and in our group, and the people behind us.
Larry Wold: And the technological changes that they have to take advantage of are absolutely fascinating, and I don’t… Doesn’t matter whether they’re going into medicine or banking, there’s cutting-edge technology out there that is absolutely amazing, and that they have a comfort with that I know I never will, and so I think that they’ll push the envelope on that in some absolutely fascinating ways in the near term.
Lisa Belisle: I agree. I appreciate your coming in and talking to me today. I’ve been speaking with Larry Wold, who is the president in Maine for TD Bank and has over 30 years of commercial lending experience. Thank you for the good work you’re doing, and keep it up.
Larry Wold: Thank you. Plan to.
Lisa Belisle: You’ve been listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 316. Our guests have included Rob Gomez and Larry Wold. For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit lovemaineradio.com. Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show, sign up for our E-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter as doctorlisa, and see our Love Maine Radio photos on Instagram. Please let us know what you think of Love Maine Radio. We welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also, let our sponsors know that you have heard about them here. We are privileged that they enable us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Dr. Lisa Belisle. Thank you for sharing this part of your day with me. May you have a bountiful life.
Speaker 1: Love Maine Radio is brought to you by Maine Magazine, Aristelle, Portland Art Gallery, and Art Collector Maine. Audio production and original music are by Spencer Albee. Our editorial producers are Paul Koenig and Brittany Cost, our assistant producer is Shelbi Wassick, our community development manager is Casey Lovejoy, and our executive producers are Kevin Thomas, Rebecca Falzano, and Dr. Lisa Belisle. For more information on our production team, Maine Magazine, or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us at lovemaineradio.com.
Speaker 1: You are listening to Love Maine Radio, hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Topsham. Show summaries are available at lovemaineradio.com.