Long-distance runner Dick Beardsley is a well-known personality on the local speaking circuit and I was privileged to hear him address a business group Monday night in Bloomington. He shared the thrill of being one of the world’s leading marathoners and the agony of struggling with a drug addiction that nearly killed him. The likeable, 6-foot-2 runner invited us to support his foundation, which offers support to chemically-dependent people undergoing treatment.
After washing out of football, Beardsley tried out for his high school’s cross country team, a much better fit for the 135-pound junior. He had never run competitively before, and at the first practice of the season, he found himself walking the last mile of a three-mile run. With practice and persistence, he became a steady runner for his senior year season in 1974.
“There are no short cuts to success,” he said. “You’ve got to believe in yourself. If you are willing to put in the work, the sky is the limit.”
Beardsley graduated from high school never having run in the state high school championship. His college career, at the University of Minnesota-Waseca, did not bring him fame, although he was encouraged by his coach who repeatedly told him he “could be as good as he wanted to be.”
In 1981, he ran Grandma’s marathon in Duluth, Minnesota. He was feeling well prepared and, mysteriously, picked up subliminal messages that he would run the course in two hours and nine minutes. He recently had recorded a time of 2:12 in the London marathon. Amazingly, he won Grandma’s with a time of 2:09:36.
The pinnacle of Beardsley’s career was the Boston marathon, ten months later. Six miles into the race, running shoulder to shoulder with Cuban-born Alberto Salazar, Beardsley told himself he could win the race. He felt terrible those first miles of the race, but a quarter of the way into the marathon, he knew he could compete with Salazar, the world’s top runner at the time.
Beardsley found himself about two blocks behind Salazar with a little over three miles to go. Beardsley sprinted forward to catch up. On the last left turn before the finish line, one of four motorcycles escorting the leaders turned in front of Beardsley, forcing him to take several extra steps. The difference was too much to overcome. Salazar won the race with a time of 2:08:51; Beardsley came in about a second and a half behind at 2:08:52.
Although others said it was clear the motorcycle cost him the race, Beardsley refused to blame anyone for his second-place finish.
Beardsley’s career, which had sky-rocketed him to international fame, took a dive after that. An injury prevented him from competing in the 1984 Olympics. Then, on Nov. 13, 1989, he suffered an accident on a farm that changed the course of his life. The broke several bones in the accident, and nearly lost his leg.
Over several years of treatment, he became addicted to pain-killing drugs. He said by the mid 1990s, he was downing 80 to 90 pills per day. He said he would go from doctor to doctor, seeking prescriptions. When he couldn’t get them, he would forge his own.
Beardsley eventually was caught and locked up in a drug ward in Fargo, N.D. He went through a lengthy, painful, and expensive rehabilitation process.
“Good things can come from bad situations,” Beardsley summarized, noting the launch of his new foundation, which is accessible through www.DickBeardsleyfoundation.org.
“You can live forty days without food, seven days without water and a few minutes without air, but not one moment without hope,” said Beardsley, who would like to bring hope to chemically dependent people in need of treatment.
I got the opportunity to meet and talk with Beardsley before his presentation. He is bright-eyed and personable. He is very likable and he tells a compelling story. I am sure he will succeed in bringing hope to many people who otherwise would not have any.
tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
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