Running helps Shorter endure

SOUTH BEND -- Running has opened more doors for Frank Shorter than he ever thought possible.

It also allowed him to close the ones that caused too much pain.

Tackling every step of a long distance challenge has taken him from the heights of an Olympic marathon gold medal, to the depths of being a first-hand witness to the brutal devastation of terrorism -- twice.

Factor in the demons that come from surviving an abusive childhood, and the 65-year-old pioneer of the running movement has had to navigate his way through some treacherous waters.

But his running shoes and Yale-honed outlook on life always got him through.

Bottom line: Shorter cares about people.

When he greets folks at the former College Football Hall of Fame Friday, in anticipation of Saturday's Sunburst races, he'll look them right in the eye and have an active interest in who they are. During a private tour of Memorial Hospital's neo-natal intensive care and hematology units, he wasn't checking out the facilities.

"Every person I met, all the babies I saw, I studied their faces," Shorter said. "People are important to me. Every life is precious."

The venom from Shorter's childhood still flows. He calls his father, once a respected doctor in a New York town of about 22,000, "a rapist and a child-beater" behind closed doors. Running gave him a path to escape the nightmare.

Two days before his gold-medal run in the 1972 Munich Olympics, he watched from his balcony in the athletes' village as the drama of Arab terrorists kidnapping 11 Israeli athletes about 150 yards away from him.

"Going through (an act of terrorism), you have shock, depression and resolution," Shorter said. "I had two days to get through that before I competed. I told (teammate) Kenny Moore that I'd put it out of my mind; I had to compete."

By then, Shorter had become experienced with suppression.

Four decades later, those same feelings were stirred last month while he was doing television analysis for the Boston Marathon. After his time on the air was concluded, Shorter was uncharacteristically five minutes late for a meeting in the production truck. Two explosions stunned runners and bystanders.

He was 40 feet away from the site of the second explosion. Shorter watched as the injured went through triage.

"I saw a young man being taken in a wheelchair," Shorter said. "I looked again, 'he's got no feet!'"

Once he moved to what he thought was safety, the magnitude of the situation took its grip.

"I guess I had a rekindling of the realization that violence doesn't accomplish a thing," Shorter said. "They picked the wrong demographic group (runners).

"Runners will be more vigilant now, but that's different than paranoia. It won't cause people to stop running. We're not afraid. We will not let it affect us."

Shorter will be the official starter of the Sunburst races, rain or shine. He is one of the founding fathers of the competition on the roads. Time hasn't slowed him down much. He's still covering anywhere between 50-60 miles a week, augmented regularly by a spinning session on a stationary bike.

"I've got too much energy that I don't use up running," said Shorter, who lives in Boulder, Colo.

Not many 65-year-olds can say that.

Even today, Shorter is one of the most popular icons of distance running.

"I never set out to be a brand, but I became one," he said.

But that doesn't stop him from caring. People are still a priority.

He'll never run away from that.

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