When I had the chance to meet one of my idols, Dick Beardsley, I was as giddy as a little girl about to open presents on Christmas morning.
If you’re a runner, odds are you know about Beardsley, an icon in the running world.
During my 10 years as a runner, I’ve watched numerous times a video of him from the 1982 Boston Marathon when he went up against Alberto Salazar and almost won.
Although he came in second, just two seconds behind Salazar, both men broke the (then) American record. And to think Beardsley almost dropped out of the race. It was hailed as one of the signature moments in the history of distance running. Watching footage of that 1982 race still gives me chills.
On Friday, Sept. 20, I watched the video again – this time with the famed runner sharing stories from that day. It was a moment I will never forget. Beardsley, who is now in his 60s, was right there, in front of me – live and in person – as I watched the 26-year-old version of him running the last few miles of that race. It was almost surreal.
I not only got goosebumps, tears welled up in my eyes. Even though I knew the outcome of that race, there was a part of me that thought, “He might win!” He didn’t, of course. But, I still hoped.
Beardsley was the guest speaker that Friday night and the next day for the Matt Kjelland Memorial 5K race in Alexandria. His presentation was free and well worth my time.
Beardsley, who is from Detroit Lakes, has one helluva amazing story that is filled with sorrow, pain, anguish and hope.
The Minnesota farmer was involved in a farm accident in 1989, getting caught in the power take-off of a piece of machinery. But he survived.
In 1992, he was T-boned in his vehicle and was seriously injured. But he survived.
While running one day, he was hit by a truck and was seriously injured. But he survived once again.
While hiking with his son, Andy, in Bemidji, he fell off a cliff and after he was rescued and put on a backboard enroute to the ambulance, he got a pine branch lodged in his eye. But once again, he survived.
Through all those tragedies, Beardsley said he never once questioned God or asked, “Why me?” Instead, he just thought that things happen for a reason.
Up to this point, Beardsley had endured 20-plus surgeries. But all that paled in comparison to what was in store for him.
He became a drug addict, finding himself addicted to the painkillers. When he couldn’t get anymore prescriptions, he started forging his prescriptions. At one point, he was taking up to 80 pills a day.
On Sept. 30, 1996, he said he was thankfully caught. And instead of going to prison, he was put on probation. “I’ve had the best years of my life since becoming clean and sober,” Beardsley told everyone at the presentation.
Beardsley survived the drug recovery process even though he wanted to die. He said he truly believed he’d never have to endure anything so difficult ever again. He was wrong.
Four years ago, Andy, Beardsley’s son – an Army veteran who came home safely after serving in Iraq – committed suicide after struggling with post traumatic stress disorder.
“At age 31 he was gone,” said Beardsley to a room so quiet you could hear a pin drop. “My little boy was gone.”
My eyes welled up with tears again. This part of Beardsley life I didn’t know about. I know Dick Beardsley the runner. The man who started the Beardsley races in Detroit Lakes. The man who held the marathon record for the famed Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth for 33 years.
But I didn’t know the man who stood before me, sharing his life’s story.
My heart ached for him. But as much pain as he’s in from losing his son to suicide, Beardsley is filled with hope. He is filled with energy and a contagious excitement.
Beardsley is determined and stubborn. He doesn’t let adversity get in his way or stop him from having a positive attitude. He tours around speaking openly about his life, about his son’s suicide. He gives hope to those who need it. He shines a light for those lost in the dark.
He gave me hope that night. Hope I didn’t even know I needed. He made me realize that I have the power to forge ahead, my head held high in whatever obstacle I might be facing and that all I need to do is try my best. And when I do, even if I don’t hit the goal I might have had, it’s OK because I gave it my all.
My advice is for all of you to do the same. And if you ever have the opportunity to meet Dick Beardsley and hear him speak, do it. It’s beyond worth it.