I first became aware of Arthur Lydiard and the men in black with the silver fern of New Zealand as a high schooler when I read Run to the Top and No Bugles No Drums and Clean Pair of Heels. I became motivated and inspired by the exotic land down under; I went under its spell.
In 1976, as a twenty-year-old, I attended the Montreal Olympic Games with my Greater Boston Track Club teammates Chucky Riley and Vinny Fleming. We drove from Massachusetts and slept on the floor of another teammate’s room, and were all there to cheer on Bill Rodgers, our mate in the marathon.
We were ecstatic when Coach Bill Squires had tickets for us and that we were able to witness the distance races with Viren holding off the men in black in the 5,000 meter in a thrilling run.
I never dreamed that four years later, when the Flying Kiwis stars of the European track circuit brought their talents to the American road race scene, that I would battle with one of these runners, Dick Quax, over the marathon distance in Eugene. Or that I would lose a close battle with him as I watched him pull away from me on the Hayward Field track.
I never spoke much with Dick that day, only a quick handshake when I noticed his feet were bloodied. He must have suffered out there.
“No pictures of the feet,” he said to the press gathered around him.
During the 1984 Olympic Trials in Los Angeles there were some group runs, and many stories shared with Dick and fellow New Zealander Kevin Ryan in Griffith Park. And, when I ran in New Zealand in 1986, Dick did TV commentary with Rod Dixon.
I grew up inspired by Dick and the men in black, and it was wonderful to actually have the chance to meet them, and compete with them. They always were friendly and gracious men. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Dick is another legendary character lost too soon.