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

Mon, 19 Apr 2004 08:13:39 -0400

Beardsley's Recovery

RUNNING COMMENTARY 515

(rerun from April 1998 RC)

This was a re-re-repeat visit for me to the Napa Valley Marathon. But this trip would be like none of the others.

The marathon celebrated the race's 20th birthday by hosting a Runner's World writer's retreat. That wasn't the official purpose, but the gathering had that look to it.

Rich Benyo, the race director, had followed me as magazine's editor. Rich left that job long ago, but after a spell of interim editors RW gave that chair to Amby Burfoot in 1987. He's still there, and was here in Napa along with his wife (and my column editor) Cristina Negron.

We were joined by Don Kardong, RW feature writer, and Jeff Galloway, RW columnist. And, oh yes, a few outsiders with stories to tell at least equal to ours: Kathrine Switzer, John Keston and Dick Beardsley. They were merely:

1. First woman to run the Boston Marathon officially, and founder-director of the Avon women's circuit.

2. World record-holder for marathoners over 70, now recovering from a bike accident that broke his hip and required surgery last fall.

3. America's third-fastest marathon man ever, Napa's record-holder (since 1987) and now a convicted-felon-in-recovery.

I was most concerned about seeing Dick Beardsley. Since I last saw him, a series of accidents had mangled a leg and his back. He took pain-killers for these problems, then needed more to get the same level of relief, until the drugs took control of him.

In December 1996 Dick was arrested, caught forging prescriptions. Because he was only using the drugs himself, not selling, and had no prior trouble with the law, he received five years' probation and orders to enter treatment for his addiction.

I hadn't heard anything of his progress, or otherwise, and didn't know what to expect on meeting him for the first time since the mid-1980s. To my relief Dick walked into the hotel lobby looking much as I'd remembered him -- younger than his years and slim enough to run a marathon though his injuries limit him to a few miles at a time.

He also sounded the way I'd known him. His "Fargo" accent was the least of it. He smiled and laughed as before, and talked more openly than ever.

"This is my one-year anniversary of being drug-free," he said. "It hasn't been easy, but getting caught was the best thing that ever happened to me." It forced him to face the problem instead of hiding it.

"The only bad part," he added, "is that I'm now a felon. Hunting has been big in my life since I was a kid, and I can't own a gun.

"And I can't travel out of state without getting written permission from my probation officer. I had to get his approval to come out here."

Dick now works off his community-service requirement by speaking to groups of kids and addicts. "I would do this even without being told," he said. Talking about his problem is his best therapy.

Talk is also a big part of his life. He has returned to radio work at a small station in Minnesota. "I work a three-hour shift, just being myself," he said.

Dick is good at being himself. He's able to do that again, now that he's relieved of carrying around his secret.

UPDATE. I've seen Dick shortly after his sobriety anniversary at every Napa Valley Marathon since 1998. He's now seven years into his second life, off probation (and free to hunt and travel), a published author (of Staying the Course), co-director of a running camp, one of the busiest speakers on the race circuit, and a marathoner again. At Napa Valley this spring, just shy of his 48th birthday, Dick ran the fastest one (2:43:58) of his rebuilt leg and life.

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