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

Sun, 26 Jun 2005 08:20:45 -0400

Footsteps of Fathers

RUNNING COMMENTARY 577

(rerun from June 1997 RC)

Looking over my right shoulder as I write are two photos. One pictures my father, the other a man I've often called a "second father."

The first photo shows my real dad, sitting with his three brothers at the Drake Relays in Des Moines. He was younger then than I am now. He would die -- much too young but not before passing his passion for the sport on to me -- within a year after this shot was taken.

The other photo now watching over me in the office has George Sheehan greeting runners at a Tyler, Texas, race finish line in the last year of his life. George was my running-writing confidant for his last 25 years.

He was the real father of George Sheehan III. We took the stage in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1997 to talk about Dr. George's legacy.

He handed down that legacy most directly and strikingly to his eldest son (one of the 12 Sheehan children). The dad was smaller and more wiry, but young George -- his longtime business manager -- carried on the sound of his fatherís voice, the Irish gift for story-telling and the ease onstage.

Young George was now about the same age that his dad was when he started writing for Runnerís World in 1970. I saw unmistakable reflections of him then in his son now.

And I saw more and more of my own father in my aging self. He was taller and darker, but the family resemblance deepens with each new line in my forehead, gully in the cheeks and sag under the chin.

After the Sheehan show in Edmonton I traveled to Flint, Michigan, for my once-a-year stint as a TV commentator. This forced me to watch myself during the editing of this program.

The effect was startling. Here on the screen I saw his mannerisms in my own: the tight smile and nervous flutter of the hands while conversing with strangers, the slight stutter and wince when searching for the right words under pressure.

Of course, it was Dad who put me on the course that led to Edmonton and Flint. From him I inherited running and writing. He was a athlete while young and a fan of track for life. He wrote for newspapers and magazines in the first of his several careers.

He taught me that this is an exciting sport and a noble profession. I've been lucky enough to combine the two for most of my lifetime.

I fell for Dad's twin loves early and have never doubted that they are right for me. He didn't just point the way and turn me loose.

I see more clearly with each new birthday that he's still here with me. He has shared this wonderful journey every step and word of the way -- not just by looking down from a nearby photo or from afar, but by looking out from inside.

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