Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Tue, 6 Nov 2001 08:52:54 -0500

Chasing the Doc


If you want to see Dr. George Sheehan as a sainted figure in running, don't read Chasing the Hawk. But if you want to know him as a father and family man, don't miss this book (published in September by Delacorte).

And don't overlook its subtitle -- Looking for My Father, Finding Myself. It tells you the book is more about Andrew Sheehan than about his famous dad.

Andy is the eighth of George's 12 children, and the only one to follow him as a professional journalist. Andy, now 46, worked for several newspapers before sidestepping into television reporting -- currently in Pittsburgh.

In the book he takes a hard look at his father -- calling him "difficult" and "distant" and "enamored with his fame." But Andy takes a much harder look at himself and his own addiction to alcohol.

Andy's recovery was well along when I first met him, and George's return to the family circle after a long period of wandering was complete. Andy's split with his father was healing nicely.

The year was 1993. The occasion was a tribute dinner for George in the last months of his life. Here's what my diary told of that visit:

AFTER AN exchange of greetings, my next item of afternoon business was a run along the boardwalk [in Ocean Grove, New Jersey] -- or what used to be that wooden walkway. A big storm blew in from the northeast last December. The waves ate away most of the beach and stacked the boardwalk like tinkertoys.

It was almost as if someone knew that George Sheehan didn't need his favorite running surface anymore. Or it was a visible reminder to him of what he could no longer do.

I wanted to take this run for George. He can't get out here anymore, but I can pick up the baton for him and go where he has gone before.

I wanted to run alone. But when announcing my leaving, George's son Andrew asked, "Can I go along?" I couldn't say no to a host.
He turned out to be the perfect companion. It seemed right that I take a run for a Sheehan with a Sheehan.

Andy told me about himself. He'd always wanted to be a writer, and after college he signed on with the newspaper where his dad's column appeared, the Red Bank Register. Andy's rise in this business took him to Pittsburgh and into a lengthy strike that shut down his paper, which led him into TV work.

"I wrote for a year in Pittsburgh," he said. "Hardly anyone recognized my name, let alone my face. But now that I'm on TV every night, everyone seems to know me."

Like his dad, Andy never sought this starring role. That makes it all the sweeter.

He's just back from reporting on Croatia for the quarter-million Croats who settled in the Pittsburgh area. While there he shot 10 segments for the local news.

"We were so busy there that I didn't have much time to think about what was happening," he said. "Only after I got home did the devastation and hopelessness of that war hit me. One day I couldn't stop crying."

Andy is the most serious Sheehan. I rarely saw him smiling and never laughing during our time together. I often saw him debating seriously with his siblings.

"He isn't like the rest of us," said George as we drove to the dinner. "He talks about his feelings and asks about yours. The rest of us don't do that."

GEORGE said at the time, "I worry about Andrew." He needn't have worried. The family gift for writing -- and thinking, and caring -- is in good hands.

"This is our story and written from my perspective," Andy writes. "A number of my brothers and sisters have privacy concerns, and others do not ascribe to its point of view. I share their concerns.

"But in the end I believe I am honoring his struggle and search by telling what I believe to be the truth. As with any long search, one must spend time in the darkness before they can even get a glimpse of the light... I hope readers will find my journey and my father's journey inspiring, and I am hopeful this book will enhance my father's legacy rather than detract from it."

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