Interview with Running Legend Dick Beardsley on His Toughest Race

This weekend is the 20th edition of the Walt Disney World Marathon, and runDisney’s pulling out all the stops bringing in a who’s who of elite runners, athletes, and personalities to celebrate the occasion.  One familiar figure speaking at the name on the list is American distance running legend Dick Beardsley – a man who was at the pinnacle of road running in the 1980’s.

Over the course of training for a marathon, everyone runs into obstacles along the way.  However, the challenges Dick Beardsley has recovered from are astounding.  He has overcome a near death farm accident, car wrecks, being hit by a truck while running, falling off a cliff while hiking, and the darkest depths of drug addiction.  Dick Beardsley has fought through it all, and still wakes up with a smile on his face.  Continue for our exclusive interview with National Running Hall of Fame member Dick Beardsley, hear his inspirational story, and learn how he’s using it to help others.

Dick Beardsley Grandma's Marathon

Click on the “play” button to listen to the interview with running legend Dick Beardsley

[audio:|titles=Dick Beardsley Interview Jan 2013]

In 1981, Dick Beardsley won the London Marathon and Minnesota’s Grandma’s Marathon with a course record time (2:09:37) that still stands today.  However, Dick Beardsley is best known for a race where he placed second, 1982’s Boston Marathon.  Beardsley finished less than 2 seconds behind World Record holder Alberto Salazar – a race dubbed the “Duel in the Sun.”

I asked Dick what he remembered of that race.

It’s hard to believe that this coming April it will have been 31 years since Alberto and I had that Duel in the Sun, but it’s still so vivid in my mind.

Beardsley recalled in colorful detail the salient moments of from waking up at 7am to the weather forecast (the race started at noon),

Willard Scott of the Today Show came on and says, ‘well folks, it’s going to be a great day in Boston for the marathon… sunshine and 80 degrees!

to the athletes lined up at the start for the race,

I’m standing on that front row and a couple guys down from me on my right is Alberto Salazar, the World Record holder, and I look to my left and there’s Bill Rodgers, 4-time winner of Boston.

to the final mile,

I could see Alberto [Salazar] up ahead of me and I thought, ‘OK Dick, you did not work this hard or come this far to finish second… and I started pumping my arms and lifting my legs… and I don’t remember my feet touching the ground.

and crossing the finish line,

I remember coming across the finish line, hearing my name and second place… and I was disappointed… but I remember Alberto climbing up on the podium… and without hesitation he reached down and grabbed me by the arm and brought me up on the podium with him.  When the Mayor raised his [Alberto’s] arm in victory… Alberto raised mine right along with it, and that’s something I’ll never forget.

Duel in the Sun

Editor’s note: For those interested in learning more about the race, I encourage you to listen to the audio of this interview.  Dick Beardsley does an amazing job bringing the event to life from his perspective.  Also, the 2006 book Duel in the Sun by John Brant is an excellent account of not just the 1982 Boston Marathon, but the somewhat parallel lives of Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley.

Following the 1982 Boston Marathon, Beardsley continued his elite running career, qualifying for the 1988 Olympic marathon trials, but ultimately not making the games.  His life then took a markedly different path.  Dick explained,

I moved back to my Minnesota dairy farm and my goal was to milk a bunch of cows, raise a bunch of kids, and life would be grand.

November 13, 1989 Dick was entangled in a piece of farm machinery.  He said, “before I knew what hit me, all of the sudden my left leg is being wrapped around this spinning shaft like taking a piece of string and wrapping it around your finger.”  The accident left Dick with all his ribs broken on the right side, a punctured right lung, a broken right arm, a piece of steel wedged into his chest, and his left leg mangled.

Just as Beardsley started to recover from the farm accident, and was getting back to running, he was involved in a series of blows including: a severe car accident, being hit by a truck while running, rolling his vehicle in a snowstorm, and falling down a cliff when a path collapsed while hiking.  The result of all these set backs, and their required surgeries, left Dick Beardsley with an addiction to narcotic pain killers.  Beardsley said,

It makes the farm accident and all those other accidents look like a walk in the park.  My life got totally out of control.  My whole world revolved around getting the drugs… taking the drugs… and making sure I didn’t get caught.

On September 30, 1996, Beardsley was finally caught by the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency.  At the depth of his chemical dependency, he was took a cocktail of 80-90 pills of Valium, Demerol, and Percocet, every day.  However, Dick was thankful for the arrest, and thankful he was caught before he or, more importantly, someone else died.

Dick Beardsley Foundation

Dick Beardsley has been drug-free since February 12, 1997, and established the Dick Beardsley Foundation in 2007 with his wife Jill.  The foundation’s mission is to educate people about the dangers of chemical dependency.  In the future, the Dick Beardsley Foundation hopes to fund those struggling with addiction who cannot afford proper treatment.  Of course, the foundation includes is Dick’s passion for running, and has a charity team at the Boston Marathon.  Each runner on the team is required to raise $5,000 for the Dick Beardsley Foundation, and it’s the largest fundraiser of the year for the organization.

Dick Beardsley

Again, Dick Beardsley will be one of the featured guests during the 2012 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend January 10-13, 2013.  He will speak at the Health and Fitness Expo, meet runDisney fans at the #WDWMarathon meetup, and compete in the Walt Disney World Half Marathon on Saturday, January 12, 2013.  Beardsley noted the scheduled 3am time to catch the starting line bus for the half marathon was not too different than his normal wake-up time to milk cows on the farm.


A partial list of special guests scheduled to appear during the 2012 Walt Disney World Marathon weekend include:

  • Jeff Galloway, Olympian and official runDisney Training Consultant
  • Frank Shorter, 1972 Olympic Marathon Gold Medalist
  • Joan Benoit Samuelson, 1984 Olympic Marathon Gold Medalist
  • Bart Yasso, Chief Running Officer, Runner’s World Magazine
  • Bill Rodgers, Boston and NYC Marathon Champion
  • Dave McGillivray, Boston Marathon Race Director
  • John “The Penguin” Bingham
  • Tara Gidus, official runDisney Nutritionist

In addition to the running legends mentioned above, television celebrities such as Drew Carey, Joey Fatone and Colin Cowherd, will also be joining the field of more than 65,000 runners (27,000 in the half marathon, 25,000 in the full marathon) from all 50 states and more than 60 countries in the events of Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend.

I want to thank Dick Beardsley for taking the time to talk with us, wish him the best of luck at the events of the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, and, more importantly, with his ongoing work in helping others battle chemical dependency.  For more interviews and motivation from personalities around the sport of running, click here.  Please follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page also to keep up with all our running adventures, family travel news, reviews, and trip reports.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.