I am a very lucky girl. Part of the reason for this is that I meet amazing people – people with whom I connect and often greatly admire – everywhere I go, many of whom I now call friends.
On Wednesday, I had the great fortune to meet a running elite – Dick Beardsley. If you aren’t familiar with his story, you should be. He’s best known for his infamous ‘Duel in the Sun‘ with Alberto Salazar in the 1982 Boston Marathon among many other running accomplishemnts and records that stand today. Although definitely a highlight of his presentation, this wasn’t necessarily the most notable thing I took away from his words.
Following a more than impressive professional running career, Dick returned home to Minnesota to live on his farm with his family. Within only a few years, he endured a number of setbacks – a near deadly farm machinary accident, a devastating car accident, being struck by a truck while out for a run, falling off a cliff while hiking, and lastly - but certainly not least detrimentally – an addiction to pain killers.
All of these misfortunes amounted to numerous hospital visits, some for 20+ surgeries, and what I can only imagine must have been the harshest reality of drug withdrawal and recovery. No matter how significant his ordeal or how long he was unable to run, he always returned to it and even said he enjoys it more now than during the height of his professional career.
What a life! And what an amazing spirit he has! And he had many, many anecdotes of people he’d met, some with whom he’s developed life-long relationships, along the way. I listened intently, laughed loudly, smiled often, felt lumps in my throat, ‘Awwwed’ to myself.
Even my greatest running accomplishments pale in comparison to what Dick would consider a bad run. I will likely never achieve a running goal anywhere near the caliber of even one of Dick’s career feats. Still, I thought of parallel points in my own running - wins and losses - as I heard stories of his; and I knew exactly what the feelings they evoked were like.
And as I listened, Dick made me want to try to be gutsier, to run harder, to be bigger and a better runner, to be more.
He is 16 years sober and never takes a single day of it for granted. He and his wife Jill even founded the Dick Beardsley Foundation in 2007 to encourage young people to lead healthy lifestyles and to promote chemical dependency education. All proceeds – 100% – from purchases from either the Foundation or Dick’s website go directly to the Foundation to fund these efforts. He’ll even autograph a book for you!
As if all of this - merely a fraction of Dick’s presentation – wasn’t inspirational enough, he concluded with a bit of advice: “I’ll leave you with four things. Every day, I try to wake with a smile on my face, enthusiasm in my voice, joy in my heart, and faith in my soul.”
He was, of course, generous with his time to sign autographs for everyone and even to pose for a few pics for for what was surely over an hour following his two-hour presentation. And, of course, we took full advantage of it! I mean, it’s not like it’s every day that us average runners have a conversation with a running legend!
How could we possibly end such an already awesome night? I’m glad you asked. We went for a run. We went just a quick 4 miles around campus, but I think it was the most awesome four miles ever. How could we not be motivated for a run after all of this?
As much as I would love such a life, I may never be well known enough a runner to write books profiling my career, to travel the country sharing motivational words gained through one-of-a-kind experience, to inspire runners and non-athletes alike with my running ambitions and accomplishments.
Still, I have a great life, make amazing connections with others, love to run. I have a lot in common with Dick Beardsley. If I can wake with a smile on my face, enthusiasm in my voice, joy in my heart, and faith in my soul, I’ll consider myself a success too.
Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., studies child development at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a long-time road and trail runner. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.