Don’t call Pike County District Judge William Hightower a "sitting" judge.
He just might take offense to that.
He’s been running for years - -on his feet, not from those he’s put behind bars.
The fact Hightower is the longest serving district judge in the state distinguishes him. But what really puts Hightower "pass the bar" is that he is a triathlete.
When Hightower takes off his robe, he becomes a superman of sorts.
Now, he’s not one to make a big deal out of what he considers "just a hobby." But, then, how many judges — or butchers or bakers or candlestick makers – spend their days off competing in triathlons?
"Just intermediate triathlons, not the Iron Man Triathlons," Hightower said. "Intermediate triathlons have, of course, three components – swimming, cycling and running. Since the intermediate triathlon is the same distance as in the Olympics, the distance is measured in meters and kilometers.
"The first leg of the triathlon – swimming - is 1.5 kilometers or just under a mile. The second leg is cycling and its 40 kilometers or just under 25 miles, and the last leg is the run and it’s 6.2 miles. That total in miles is 32."
Hightower has always enjoyed running, but didn’t run seriously until 2005. But, even then, he didn’t expect to run such a long way and for a long time.
"When I started running, I did so to stay in shape and in good physical condition," he said. "I was running for my health, but I really enjoyed it. I’d done a lot of swimming as a volunteer with the Boy Scouts. Swimming is good exercise and I enjoyed it too."
As a confident runner and swimmer, Hightower sometimes thought about adding cycling as a third "sport" and competing in triathlons. And, then he did it.
"I consider running my strongest event with swimming second," Hightower said. "But in a triathlon you have to train for all three. Running just comes easiest for me because I’ve done more running. And, I’ve done more swimming than cycling. But I have to train for all three."
Hightower trains alone because that’s the way triathletes compete. The competition is tough. Each triathlete competes against the field and also against himself or herself. Although the ultimate goal is to win the event, each competitor sets a realistic goal.
Hightower has competed in four triathlons, most recently the Brett Robinson Alabama Coastal Triathlon in Gulf Shores on September 10. About 300 triathletes from 11 states competed.
"Going into the triathlon, I had two goals – to finish and not to be last," Hightower said, laughing. "I finished and I wasn’t last."
Hightower reached both of his realistic and attainable goals, and he had fun in the wake of it all.
There’s nothing like a refreshing mile-long gulf swim, a breezy 25-mile bike ride and kicking up six miles of sand to the finish line.
It sure beats pounding the pavement of the training course with dogs in chase.
"It’s takes a lot out of you, but it’s fun," Hightower said of the triathlon. "I enjoy competing and the Brett Robinson Alabama Coastal Triathlon is a flat course and I like that, but I don’t mind a few hills either. I train around Troy and it’s hilly. I’ve competed at Oak Mountain in Birmingham and it’s hilly. Each course is different and challenging."
But it’s those unexpected challenges that define each competition.?
"Each race has its own interesting story," Hightower said. "In the triathlon at Gulf Shores, I was doing good in the gulf swim, based on my own abilities. The extra challenge came on the cycling leg. I had gone four miles when I hit a hole and my tire went flat. You can stop and play with your bike if you’ve carried the tools you need, but no one can help you."
Without the tools he needed to fix a flat and unable to enlist help, Hightower was left to his own devices.
"All I could do was keep riding on the flat," he said. "I was concerned, but the flat tire was like a cushion and it never wore down to the rim. Riding on the flat was like riding uphill all the time. Every mile I wondered what it would be like to have to push the bike to the finish line. But I didn’t have to find out."
Hightower rode the last 21 miles of the cycling leg of the Brett Robinson Alabama Coastal Triathlon on a flat tire. And, perhaps, on the last leg – the running leg — he felt as though he had wings on his heels.
And, when he looked up and saw the finish line, and then looked back and saw he would not finish last, the judge knew he had not only passed the bar this time, he had raised it for himself just a bit.
Jaine Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.