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

Sun, 17 Apr 2005 08:47:29 -0400

Where's Dick?


(rerun from April 1999 RC)

A race director's duties extend beyond directing the runners to include rounding up guests. Rich Benyo spent the Friday before his Napa Valley Marathon at the airport, collecting the weekend's speakers.

Members of our party strayed as we awaited arrival of the final guest. "Organizing a group of runners is like trying to herd cats," said Rich in resignation and exasperation.

This was quite a collection of talent. It included Lorraine Moller, New Zealand's Olympic Marathon medalist from 1992 who now lives in Colorado... Gayle Barron, women's winner at the 1978 Boston Marathon... John Keston, an Oregon-based Briton who holds the world record for marathoners 70 and older... George Sheehan III, son of Dr. George and inheritor of his speaking skills.

Our missing person was Dick Beardsley. He wasn't lost, just delayed by his airline.

Dick is a longtime favorite of mine. In the early 1980s no one in the world ran marathons much better than he did.

He linked up with Alberto Salazar in the best road-race finish I've ever seen. They finished two seconds apart at the 1982 Boston Marathon, running times that still rank 2-3 in U.S. history.

Since then Dick has endured a horrible series of accidents. The worst, suffered on his dairy farm, nearly cost him a leg -- and possibly his life. Three traffic mishaps followed, resulting in chronic pain and an eventual addiction to pain medication.

Dick bottomed out in late 1996 with his arrest for forging prescriptions. He received no jail time, but was ordered into treatment and to perform hundreds of hours of community service.

I saw him at Napa the next year. He said then, "The arrest was the best thing that could have happened to me. It made me face my problem instead of hiding or denying it."

He was then celebrating "one year of sobriety." Of his speaking to student groups, he said, "I would have liked to do that anyway."

Now he could tell us how the second year off drugs had gone -- if we ever saw him. Through a series of glitches, the theme of the weekend became, "Where's Dick?"

He missed the first evening reception and the dinner that followed, along with all other group meals but one. Dick, a professional radio announcer, spoke brilliantly at the clinics, then seemed to vanish again.

In one of his talks he was asked the inevitable, "Are you running tomorrow?" He told of running only four or five miles a day, then added, "I'd like to go to halfway in the marathon, then see how I feel."

The rumor took wing that he planned to finish. But he wasn't immediately available to confirm or deny.

On race morning I saw Dick only briefly, as he pulled off his extra clothes. He had on his race face.

Later at the finish line our group asked each other, "Where's Dick?" None of us had seen him on the course.

Finally he walked into the hotel lobby, again wearing his usual relaxed smile. "At halfway I felt like I could have gone on all day," he said. "Two miles later I was looking for a ride on the sag wagon."

Fifteen miles still was his longest run since the farm accident a decade earlier. It celebrated two drug-free years and completion of more than 400 hours of community service.

His friends might not be able to find him as often and for as long as they would like. But Dick Beardsley knows right where he is now, and just how far he has bounced back after hitting bottom.

UPDATE. Dick did return to marathoning and now runs several a year. At Napa this spring he ran in the 2:43s, the fastest time of his new life. This won him the masters title as an almost-49-year-old.

Recently I introduced him at a high school assembly in Selah, Washington. (We were in town for the Yakima River Canyon Marathon.) The kids were skeptical at first about what a runner could tell them, but Dick won them over with his humor and honesty.

As his talk ended, the students gave him a standing ovation. One of their teachers marveled, "They've never done that before, for anyone."


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