Monday, August 23, 2010

Remembering Lloyd "Forever" Young

When DtB learned the sad news last week that 87-year-old masters distance running legend Lloyd Young had died, we asked Dan Carlson, who got to know Young over the years, to share some of his memories of the man known to many as Lloyd "Forever" Young.

Carlson, a fellow masters runner (albeit one from a different generation than Young), attended last week's funeral and offered the following thoughts on the man he came to know and admire.

I met Lloyd for the first time after Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon in 1995 ... I remember because I was beaten (3rd) that day after having won the previous three, and he had a marvelous race (I think sub-1:35...for a guy past 70!!).

We both raced quite a bit back then so it was common to end up at the same races, and I think that the spirit of a man who might best be described as "elfin" was infectious not only for me but I'd be willing to guess many others ...

As many know, Lloyd's personal license plate on that dark blue 1992 Ford Escort read "FOREVER". The plates were displayed in a flower arrangement yesterday, and I feel they summed up his life at more than one level.

Obviously the optimism that being "forever young" is something that all of us may dream of, but I think that through his running, his writing, the relationship he found with Christ, and the work he put into improving himself as a person after some earlier-in-life laments/regrets that he truly needed to be around a long time to accomplish all the plans he had in store for his life. We all fall short at times, and it's only through some level of atonement that we make things right ...

Lloyd's last race was Mora 5K ... August 15, 2009. I had ended my racing season a few weeks before, after Lumberjack 10-mile as my body (hamstring) gave out yet again, but I was heading through Mora en route to the Snake River to fish and wanted to wish him well, since he hadn't been able to race in quite some time. (He was battling a dry, scratchy throat that sometimes embarrassed him when speaking, and which was the harbinger of something far worse, something that would end his life.)

He did bounce back enough to get to Mora for one last shot at a single-age MN record, however. (Duly noted, mission accomplished). It took me longer than usual to find him because he wasn't in any of the parking spots closest to the start, and anyone who knew the man who got to races VERY early would likely find him there.

I didn't bother him too long because I know a bit about race day a half hour before showtime, and perhaps the extra angst he felt having been away from racing for awhile. Did he maybe sense also that this could be his last race? I'll always wonder about that. He even wrote a poem about Mora ...

Last fall, shuttling between home and the VA Hospital, he was still filled with plans, and his writing continued to flourish. I think as running got away from him he used the power in his writing to fuel the sense of accomplishment he got from running, even as the illness welling up within him began to take away his strength.

We exchanged Christmas cards, and a few days later I got the letter from him I knew would come someday, but to get this from the man dubbed "FOREVER" ripped at me. The problem with his throat had a name ... cancer. He said as he went to see the doctors he knew it was bad just by the feeling he got entering the room.

Options? Do nothing and fade away, or we can take your larynx out, you'll never speak again, and we may be able to keep you around. Bitter medicine to take for a fiercely-independent man, who was shaken by this turn of events.

I remember the trouble he had with speaking at times before he really knew why, and the great comeback line he had for it when a comely woman was around as he spoke....something to the effect of "...this always happens when I talk to a pretty girl..."

He may have been getting "old", but only as a number.

Along with his memories of Young, Carlson shared these poems written Young ...

Masters of the Distance
Every marathon has its beginning, but at the end, some pain
and every runner runs for winning, if not, he'll try again;
and somewhere in the final miles legs may find some strife,
an older runner, in wisdom smiles, how a marathon is life.

A Living Legend
See the greybeard on faltered pace
his slender legs no longer strong,
his pride won't let him quit the race,
he struggles on, struggles long
Hard and seasoned, tough as nails,
he makes the most of what remains,
runs on experience when all else fails,
runs on empty and runs on pain.
In the glory days, in his prime,
he was the very best of another time.

For the Laurels

(Printed in the memorial service pamphlet)
In life we race to reach our end,
with little time to smell the roses.
To find our future we flee the past
and deny the present that holds us back...
so near the finish, our eyes on the prize,
laurels, the reward for the many hard miles.
But in midst of glory,
goals of life's quest
I pray the last mile will be my best.

Good Old Whatsizname
Good old Mister Whatsizname,
a man to our memory so dear,
I think he's from whatsitsname,
a town up north from here.
If we can't recall a name well-known just yesterday,
who's going to remember me after I've passed away?
So, when I'm lowered to my grave
my fame, to the world I'll give,
I ask that on my stone engrave
a name that will forever live:
Here lies Good Old Whatsizname, "Good Old Mister Whatsizname"

Photo courtesy of Dan Carlson.

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