Archive for June, 2008

Keeping George Sheehan      

Bernard L. “Bun ” Gladieux, Jr.

The recent loss of a good friend got me to thinking recently of the many people I have known in my 70 years with whom I share a special kinship. These are family and friends I have lost in the sense that they are no longer among us living but who live very much in me because of their impact on my life and my outlook.

One of these people is George Sheehan who died several years ago after a long and brave battle with prostate cancer.  I hadn’t known George Sheehan as well as some or as long, but the George Sheehan I was fortunate to come to know and admire was a kind, caring, humane man, deeply committed to living life fully. He used to say something to the effect that running might not make you healthy or make you live longer, but that done right, it would make you fit and would allow you to double the amount of living you are able to experience for as much time as you have here.

In his dedication to running, Sheehan discovered a trove of wonderfully valuable secrets that he spent the rest of his life sharing with the world.  He lived in the here and now, very much connected with the earth and within himself.  He glowed with the enthusiasm of a boy earnestly at play.  When he spoke and wrote, it was to share his boy’s enthusiasm for living.

At one time in the late 1970s we would speak fairly frequently by telephone about his articles.  I was, at the time, editing “The Jogger,” the periodical of what was then The National Jogging Association.  Later we changed its name to The American Running and Fitness Association, and Sheehan was a loyal and consistent supporter of the organization which is now called American Running Association.

Dr. Sheehan allowed us to publish some of his material when it wasn’t otherwise spoken for by “Runner’s World” to which, he carefully explained to me, he had a prior obligation made all the more imperative by his having a large number of children to put through college.

We actually met several times over the years and even ran together on occasion. Once, when I when I was much younger than I am today, we ran along side one another in the Boston Marathon for a couple of miles.  At about mile twenty, on the outskirts of Cambridge, and not feeling all that chipper myself, I spotted his anguished figure a few paces in front of me.  He was swaddled in his signature white handkerchief around his head and was wheezing and groaning like a belabored steam engine just like his legend says.

He gasped some comments about the day, the course, and we exchanged some other thoughts of the moment, but it was clear that George Sheehan was in his altered state, suffering with gusto his self-managed catharsis.  I eventually stepped it up to a quieter place in the stream of runners and left George to enjoy his experience alone in the crowd.  Later I saw him hobble around the finish area clearly in exquisite, residual pain, his penance completed, nobly wrapped in a blanket and in the arms of his loving and indulgent family.  I remember thinking, “there’s a happy man.”

Several years later, at a time when we were both recovering from something or another, we ran together at the back of a 5k run in Allentown, PA.  Sheehan, older, slower and, I thought, more relaxed and mellow, spoke again about the day, about being happy just to be out in it and about how you were more likely to meet nicer people at the slow end of a race than at the front.  He had a gift for making wry, droll observations that hit the mark.

 In 1978, when we were together at a meeting in Chicago, I asked George Sheehan to sign my book, “Running and Being, The Total Experience.”  Here is what he wrote on the inside front cover:  “Dear Bun, “As you know, this is not the total experience, there’s always tomorrows run. All the best, George Sheehan.” It was and remains a thought worth repeating, and I suspect that it can be found in any number of other copies of this thoughtful and influential book.

In his beautifully crafted writings over the years, George Sheehan has helped me to grow and to deepen as an athlete.  As he has for thousands of other striving runners, George Sheehan encouraged me to continue my quest for inner discovery, to find the child inside and to nurture him with child’s play.

No one else has ever spoken so eloquently about how the profoundly physical act of running for the pure pleasure of it helps us bring together all the elements of our being as coherent, living, breathing, thinking, feeling, reverent human animals.


“Be a good animal, and go out and play.”  Thank you George, I think I’ll do just that. And if it’s an especially good run, I’ll dedicate it to you. 



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