Sitting behind his small cluttered desk in his small, cramped basement office in Sandy, Bob Wood had his ear pressed to a phone. Which is hardly unusual. Bob Wood always has his ear pressed to a phone. Rumor has it that he once had to have it surgically removed. "I'll be right with you," Wood signals to a visitor who knows better.
Wood is an agent/business manager for many of the world's top road racers - Olympians Paul Cummings, Ed Eyestone, Mark Conover, Julie Isphording, Gabriele Andersen, Olympic marathon medalist Karel Lismont, last year's top-ranked U.S. female marathoner, Maureen Custy; top-ranked all-around road stars Mark Curp, Kellie Cathey and Don Janicki, among many others (and, at various times, he also has handled Olympic track stars Doug Padilla and Henry Marsh and former marathon world record holder Steve Jones). All told, he has managed 26 Olympians from eight countries.Which is where the phone comes in. Sandy (and Utah, for that matter) is hardly the center of the running universe, but then Wood has everything he needs to stay on top of the scene right there in his ear. Wood should be AT&T's Man of the Year. Reach out and touch everyone - clients, hotels, travel agents, race directors, shoe companies . . . Every morning, Wood sits at his desk, amid boxes and file cabinets overflowing with papers and running magazines, and spends the better part of eight hours (and sometimes longer) on the phone, calling clients and races around the world and dutifully crossing items off his lengthy people-to-call list. This is why he has a monthly long-distance bill of about $1,000.
"I go to the mall in the afternoon just to escape the phone," he says, and he's not kidding.
But Wood isn't complaining. His is not a bad way to make a living, if you've got the contacts, and he does. All of Wood's clients came to him, not visa versa. For instance, after winning the recent U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, Conover immediately asked Wood to be his agent.
Wood estimates he is one of about nine full-time running agents/managers in the world - "There isn't room for anymore," he says. "You've got to have top people (runners) to survive."
And for six years Wood has survived quite nicely in the business. He gets 10 percent of everything his runners earn, including shoe contracts, appearance fees, prize winnings, endorsements. At times, the stakes are high. Wood once won $15,000 in a single race, thanks to Jones, but usually his cut is considerably more modest.
"It's a lot like having race horses," says Wood. "If they run well, you eat well; if they don't, you don't. But I also want them to do well because I care about them as people."
"We get very close," says Wood. "I try to help their whole careers, and to make their lives more hassle-free."
Which means Wood's life is quite to the contrary; hence, the prematurely gray hair, the sleepless nights and chronic worries. Wood comes to the latter naturally.
"I'd be stressed out if I was a ditch diggger," says Wood, "but it comes in handy in this business, because if my client has a problem, then it's my problem and they don't have to worry about it."
It's not as if Wood can leave his job at the office anyway. After all, he literally lives at the office, which also doubles as home for him, wife Kay and their two young boys. A trip to the office means walking downstairs.
Wood's interest in running began while he was winning four Wyoming state mile championships. Even then, Wood had such a knack for times and evaluating talent that coaches would ask him to name the favorites before a particular race. Wood attended the University of Utah on a track scholarship, and eventually wound up as an assistant coach there. When he was passed over for the vacant head coaching job, Wood quit and went into the running shoe store business. Then the business failed, and Wood was hunting for a new profession at the age of 33. By then he already was representing Cummings, a one-time NCAA mile champ and unemployed steel worker who had decided to try road racing and asked Wood to be his agent. "I decided maybe I could make a living at that," says Wood.
He has been ever since.
"No one has written a handbook on how to be an agent yet," says Wood, so he's learned along the way. One of the first things he realized is that race directors "judge you by who you sent them before." So far Wood's judgment - no doubt aided by his coaching background - has been sound. He recognized the potential of Padilla, for instance, before anyone outside of BYU knew about him, and convinced Sunkist Invitational officials to let him in their two-mile race. Padilla won, and the race launched his stardom.
Wood's reputation has been growing steadily since then. He's something of a man-in-the-know in the running world, sought out by local and national media looking for information and news tips. Race directors from as far away as Japan (the Sapporo Marathon) and as close as Salt Lake City (the S.L. Classic and Deseret News 10Ks) have called on him to arrange the entire elite field for their races.
"I like what I'm doing," says Wood, gray hairs notwithstanding. "I'd do it for free if I could afford it." And there are, after all, a family and phone to support.