When it came time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Frank Shorter’s amazing 1972 Munich Olympics marathon gold medal, several big events were dotting the calendar.
There was a get-together in Boulder, Colo., where he first began to achieve greatness with his altitude training.
And another planned in Gainesville, Fla., where he once attended the University of Florida College of Law (after graduating from Yale University) and ran with some of the best striders in the country in the early ’70s, including Jack Bacheler and Jeff Galloway.
But when it came time to pay tribute to Shorter on the exact date (Sept. 10), nothing was actually planned until local running entrepreneur Pat McCloskey approached Shorter and said why not come to Bucks County and share the occasion with a few hundred runners, fans and “close friends” at Sunday’s “Chasing the Unicorn” Marathon?
Shorter said sure and the pre- and post-race festivities ended up being nothing short of magical.
As a combined 289 marathon and Alternative Half Marathon runners stood at the starting line in Washington Crossing Historic Park, Shorter addressed the group and expressed his gratitude for being able to once again connect with local runners.
Since Shorter grew up in Middletown, N.Y., just a couple hours drive up the Delaware, this was a little bit like “old-home” day. Prior to getting on the public address system to speak to all the runners, Shorter engaged in conversation with some of the top runners.
“To me, this is full circle,” said the 74-year-old Shorter. “Things have come full circle, in a way, for me in my running. This is where we started out in the ’70s after I ran in Munich.
“People started putting on road races and you had local personalities who just love the sport and wanted to put it on. That’s what it is here, for us, so it allows me to visually and mentally sort of go back to that point and realize how lucky I really was.”
Despite cloudy conditions that eventually turned to a pretty steady rain, the level of enthusiasm was not diminished.
That’s a far cry from the nonexistence of energy in the pre-American running boom, later rectified by the likes of Shorter, Bill Rodgers and others.
“Over the years I’ve realized there are so many people who now share that love of running,’’ Shorter said. “When I started running around a park in my hometown Middletown up the river, I was the only one out there.
“Now this (the Chasing the Unicorn Marathon) happens.”
What keeps the “boom’’ moving is the work of local organizers who put on races such as these.
“There are certain personalities who have emerged in the running boom,” Shorter said. “In the past you had Fred Lebow (New York City Marathon), Tommy Leonard (Falmouth Road Race). He (McCloskey) is one of those personalities.
It didn’t take much convincing to get Shorter to come to Bucks for this special weekend.
“My thought was when he said do you want to come here and do this – my wife (Michelle) and I had just planned to have a day to ourselves – but this (as mentioned) was like coming full circle,” Shorter said.
He followed up that comment with how he takes credit for getting Rodgers into the sport.
“There was Billy and the way I put it was he watched me in ’72,” said a smiling Shorter. “He took a last huge puff on his cigarette, put it out and said, ‘I can do that!’”
McCloskey was all smiles to have the only two-time U.S. Olympic marathon medalist grace his competition.
“He’s one of the nicest guys on the planet,” said McCloskey. “I realized this week he’s not only a great runner and a great commentator but he and his wife are nice people. The great part of that is when you find out your heroes are cool people.”