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

Sat, 23 Feb 2002 09:37:32 -0500

A Better Beardsley

RUNNING COMMENTARY 402

Dick Beardsley is one of the most positive people I've ever met. So much so that a psychologist once charged him with faking it.

In his new book, Staying the Course, Dick writes that she "didn't think I was taking this [counseling] seriously... 'I think this is just an act for you,' she said. 'You act like you're so happy all the time.'

"She thought it was just an act. But it's who I am, addict or no. Later she realized it."

Anyone less sunny than Dick might not have faced all that he did, and come out of it alive and sane. The book (which he wrote with Maureen Anderson for the University of Minnesota Press) tells of Dick at his best as a runner, at his worst as a person and now better than ever before because of what he has survived.

I met Dick more than 20 years ago, at the peak of his racing life. He'd just run a 2:09:37 marathon at Grandma's.

But he wasn't running the weekend that we shared a stage. A run-in with a farm dog had left him injured.

He made light of that incident during a talk in which he poked fun at other foibles of his. He was a serious runner who didn't take himself too seriously.

I celebrated with him at Boston the next spring. There he ran both his fastest race and his last great one -- a 2:08:54 in his epic match with Alberto Salazar. Hours later, Dick still burst into tears as he hugged everyone he recognized.

An achilles injury soon afterward would cut short his competitive years. But surgery on that tendon and incomplete recovery afterward would be a pinprick compared to what lay ahead for him.

A brutal series of accidents on his farm and on the road in the late 1980s and early '90s lured Dick into an addiction to pain-killers. He hit bottom with his 1996 arrest for forging prescriptions.

So dependent was he on the drugs that doctors weaned him from them slowly so the shock of withdrawal wouldn't overwhelm him. "My first day of sobriety," he writes, "was February 12th, 1997." This month he celebrated his fifth re-birthday.

My first meeting with the "new" Dick Beardsley had come when he was just one year sober. Rich Benyo of the Napa Valley Marathon had arranged this appearance at a time when Dick still needed permission from his probation officer to leave Minnesota.

I was relieved to see that the "new" Beardsley was much like the "old." He still could laugh at his troubles and cry over his triumphs.

Napa became a recovery event for Dick in another way. It made him a marathoner again.

There two years ago he ran the first marathon of his reclaimed life, in 3:23. At Napa last year he announced a goal of "running Grandma's within an hour of my breakthrough time there 20 years ago." Last summer he ran the Duluth race in 2:55.

Dick's enthusiasm and honesty make him a terrific speaker. I've laughed and cried with him many times at events around the country.

His stories are familiar to me, but Staying the Course fills in details he can't tell in an hour's talk. To his co-author's and editors' great credit, they let Dick write as he talks.

You can "hear" him in the book as the first half covers his glory days and the last half his gory days. The second part is more gripping, and in the end more inspiring as his worst times lead again to some of his best.

He writes, "People say, 'Dick, is recovering from drug addiction as hard as running marathons?' And I say, 'Man, it's not even close.'

"Training for a marathon or running a marathon is such a walk to the mailbox compared to beating an addiction. It's the hardest thing I've ever been thorough, emotionally or physically."

He adds that "it's one of the best things that ever happened to me." He's sorry to have put wife Mary and son Andy through all this, but if they can forgive him, it has been for the best.

"I mean that. I am the LUCKIEST MAN ALIVE."

Dick puts those last three words in italics. This is how he often talks -- emphatically.

His recovery isn't complete. It never is for an addict. But he keeps getting better.

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