I’ve been running for 40-plus years now and have logged more than 150,000 miles, yet when I go to bed at night I can hardly wait to get up in the morning for my run. I’ve been very fortunate in my running, but when I look back on how I got started, it was all because I wanted to get a date with a girl.
As a young boy growing up in Minnesota, my whole world revolved around hunting, fishing, milking cows… anything to do with the outdoors. But everything changed when I started my junior year of high school in the fall of 1973. I remember walking through those doors. Suddenly my hormones had changed: girls started looking a lot more interesting to me than a dead possum lying alongside the road.
There was a girl in my history class who caught my eye that first day of junior year, but I was way too bashful to say anything to her. A friend of a friend kinda knew her, so I was able to get her phone number. I thought: “I’ll just call her on the phone so I don’t have to look her in the eyes when I’m talking to her.” I got home from school that afternoon and my Mom and Dad were in the kitchen, right next to our phone. I thought: “I can’t let my Mom – and especially my Dad – see me talking to a girl on the phone.” So I snuck into our basement where we had one other phone. I started to walk towards it and immediately I could feel my heart rate start to increase. I kept telling myself: “Just pick up the phone, dial her number, and when she answers everything else will come out naturally.” But a bigger part of me was saying: “Ya know what, Dick? It ain’t gonna happen.” Sure enough, I got to the phone and I was petrified. I could not pick it up. So I went to the corner of the basement and got myself together, knowing I could call her. But NO, I couldn’t do it. I thought: “What a loser you are, Dick.”
At school the next day I noticed the guys that were good at sports, with their high school letter jackets on, had girls hanging all over them. I thought: “That’s it! All I have to do is earn a letter jacket and the chicks will come to me.” So I went all out for football. Now, I’m six feet tall and weigh 134 pounds soaking wet, but I was determined to be a football player.
I remember my football coach had us all in a big circle in the middle of the eld. He was explaining what we were going to do for practice on that very first day, when he threw the football towards the end zone and hollered: “Beardsley, fumble, get the ball!” I took off running as fast as my skinny little legs would take me and I jumped on that football. Moments later, about 20 players hog-piled on top of me.
When I got out of that pile, my helmet was on crooked, my shoulder pads were sticking out, and my football pants were down to my ankles. I remember thinking: “There’s not a girl alive worth going through this for.” I quit. I walked off the eld. My entire football career – from start to finish – lasted 43-and-a-half minutes. I was devastated. There I was, 17 years old; I’d never had a date with a girl, I couldn’t even talk to one on the phone, and now I didn’t last an hour on the football squad. I thought I might be a bachelor the rest of my life.
It was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
I remember a friend telling me about running cross-country and I thought: “How hard can that be?” A week later, I showed up for my first day of practice and coach told us to line up in front of the school. We were going to do the “around the block” run. I had never run before but I knew I was stubborn enough and determined enough that I could stay with my teammates around the block. Our coach blew his whistle and off we went. I got to the end of the first street; I was with all my teammates. We turned left, we got to the next street corner; I was still with all my teammates. We turned left again. Now I thought: “OK, we get to the next street, turn left, back to high school; practice over. Man, I’m gonna like this cross-country!”
We got to that corner but, instead of turning, everyone went straight. We got to the next street and again everyone went straight. At this point it felt like someone was trying to rip my heart right out of my chest. I felt like my lungs were about ready to explode. Pretty soon we were out of town and into the countryside. My teammates were so far in front I couldn’t see them anymore. Thankfully, one of them ran back to where I was struggling to put one foot in front of the other and said: “Beards, follow the road you’re on all the way to the end. When you get to the end, turn left. When you get to the next road, turn left there and that will take you back to the high school.” Off he went! I later found out that what they called their “around the block” run was actually 3.2 miles; that doesn’t seem very far to me today but, back then, it felt like forever.
I had to walk the last mile; I could not run. By the time I got back to my high school parking lot, all my teammates (and my coach) had showered and gone home. But when I crossed that imaginary nish line, I remember thinking: “Dick, I don’t know how far you just ran and walked, but you made it. And if you work real, real hard, believe in yourself, have faith and do what the coach tells you to do, I just betcha Dick, you can get good enough to make the varsity team, earn the letter jacket, and get a date with a girl.” That was my whole inspiration for running: to get a date with a girl.
I didn’t make the varsity team that first year but the next summer I ran every single day. Exactly one year to the day after that first “around the block” run, we did the same run and this time, instead of everyone finishing in front of me, they all finished behind me. Now that’s not saying a whole lot as we didn’t have a very good team! But it showed me that if you’re willing to really work hard at something, and have faith – along with commitment and determination – don’t ever let anything stand in your way of going after your dreams.
Illustration by David Wardle. David Wardle is an industrious designer and illustrator, a serious distance runner – the type who does 10 miles before breakfast and supper – and he’s represented England. www.boldandnoble.com @boldandnoble