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

Sat, 7 Oct 2006 10:43:26 -0400

Team Welch


If Priscilla Welch hadn't been such a fine runner, I never would have met her husband Dave. And without Dave, Priscilla never would have become the runner she was. They were a team that way.

About two months ago my wife Barbara and I shared a breakfast with the Welches. I'd known Priscilla and Dave a long time, almost since they'd moved to this country from England.

Priscilla was about to turn 40 that year, 1984. She'd only run for about five years but had improved enough to place in the top half-dozen at the Los Angeles Olympics. In 1987 she won the women's race outright at the New York City Marathon and set a world masters record that still stands, almost 20 years later.

Dave was responsible for that success. He first encouraged "Cilla," as he called her, to stop smoking and start running. They both served in the British military at the time.

After Priscilla finished her first marathon in about 3-1/2 hours, she set what seemed at the time like an outlandish goal: to improve by an hour. That would have been within five minutes of the world record back then.

Dave didn't say, don't be silly. He said, "I'll do what I can to help get you there." With his coaching, she peaked at 2:26:52.

Her professional career was easing down in the early 1990s when we worked on a book together. Along with Bill Rodgers, the result was Masters Running & Racing.

That project was rather ironic because Priscilla said, "I don't think of myself as a 'masters' racer. I try to do my best against all the ladies in the field, regardless of age."

She also talked about life of the top-level racing circuit as "a pleasant interlude" between what the couple had done before and whatever would come next. One of the "nexts" wasn't pleasant.

Priscilla developed breast cancer and endured the full arsenal of treatments. This abruptly ended her career as a competitor.

Dave became the more serious athlete of the two. He was a primarily a runner until a hip replacement put a stop to that. Then he continued as a cross-country ski and bicycle racer.

The couple, now U.S. citizens, coached at a high school in Colorado for a few years. Then they moved to Bend, Oregon, and I now could see them more often.

Our latest meeting was this summer. Priscilla was in Eugene as a special guest at a Relay for Life cancer fund-raiser, and Dave came along.

I didn't hear Priscilla's talk. It came after my bedtime -- and hers too, she said the next morning.

At breakfast Dave -- a healthy-looking, ruddy-faced, boisterous, jolly, opinionated man in his mid-60s -- talked his bicycling season, his recent results and near-future plans. "Our highlight," he said, "will be bicycling through Switzerland in September. We are going there with a tour group."

As we said good-bye to the Welches that Saturday morning in July. Priscilla's last words were, "You must come and see us in Bend."

Now, suddenly, there is no "us." These inseparable teammates have been separated in the only way possible.

In September, Priscilla sent an e-mail from Europe. "Dave died just outside Geneva whilst having breakfast. He was conversing with the others in his cycle tour about having a very easy ride that day, so that he would be healthy for the flight home.

"Seconds later he held his head and was gone. What a way to go. That's my Dave."

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