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Gord Dickson, 1932-2015

January 24, 2015

This week Gord Dickson, a legendary Canadian runner, passed away at the age of 83. Obituary.

Highlights:

1960 Olympic Marathon (Rome)
1959 Boston Marathon, 3rd
5-time winner of Around the Bay 30km
6-time Canadian marathon Champ
3-time Canadian XC Champ
1959 Pan-Am Games Marathon, 3rd
2:21:51 marathon PB – 1958 (when Gord set his PB the WR for the marathon was 2:17:39)

I first met Gord Dickson at a road race in Fergus, ON over 10 years ago. He had driven a couple of Kenyans from Hamilton to the race. I suspected he was once a runner himself but I had no idea of his accomplishments, he wasn’t one to boast.

In 2008 I moved back to Hamilton and started running with a few Kenyans (Thomas Omwenga, Josephat Ongeri and David Karanja). Since I was the only Speed River athlete training for the marathon in 2009 I decided to stay in Hamilton longer than the three months I had initially planned for. Over the next few years I would run into Gord many times.

The Kenyans referred to Gord as ‘coach’ but he was much more than just a coach for these guys. He would also act as their agent to get them into races, drive them to races and help them out with many of life’s challenges for a Kenyan immigrating to Canada.

Gord also coached many other runners and you could usually find him at the McMaster track in the evenings with a stopwatch. I would do my easy runs and pass by there to chat for a bit. It was during these conversations where I was privy to great running stories of the 50’s and 60’s as well as encouraging words about my own running.

A few stories that stick out…

There used to be a 30 mile race from Guelph to Hamilton that Gord won (perhaps more than once). This intrigued me as I’ve made that drive countless times and biked it a few times as well. It was common for Olympic level marathoners to dabble in road races longer than 42km back in the day. It’s fascinating to hear about the racing schedules runners did back then.

Within half a year of moving back to Hamilton I broke my foot and didn’t run for 3 months. Gord was relieved that I didn’t have a plaster cast and had a removable air cast. When he was in a cast he got in the pool for exercise and, naturally, some water seeped in. When he finally got the cast removed he said his foot looked like a “dead fish”. It had been waterlogged for weeks and, on top of that, atrophied. To strengthen his foot and test it out Gord walked the 30km from Hamilton to Brantford. After that he was ready to resume training.

I can’t remember the length of the loop (about 120m) and the exact distances (LONG) but when the snow or ice piled too high he would run in the underground parking lot at these apartments in Hamilton. He had training partners to accompany him for these long runs.

Gord had many stories about hot races where everyone would run much slower than what they were capable of. This is because these guys rarely took in more than water, if even water. There wasn’t much out on the courses in the 50’s and if they were lucky enough to get some refreshments it was rarely enough.  Since then much more is known about hydration and fuelling. The way these guys had to slog it to the finish line would make for good TV these days.

Gord was always very supportive and encouraging about my running and would often give advice, but never in a “I know what’s right” kind of way. It was more learning from his career and how I could use that info to further mine.

In late November Gord emailed me about Kenya. We talked on the phone for a while about him and his wife taking a trip to Kenya this winter. He said he always wanted to go and in the past few years his health wasn’t good enough but he was feeling better and saw a window for overseas travel. We talked about staying in Nairobi for a couple of days to rest from the travel and see the Giraffe Centre and other sights. Then travel to Iten to check out a Kenyan running hub and watch some track and fartlek sessions. Once in Kenya I emailed him some information about Nairobi and his wife, Sheilah, responded that Gord was in the hospital with very aggressive pancreatic cancer. One week later Gord passed away. He will be missed, RIP.

 

Here are portraits of Gord Dickson taken decades apart. (courtesy of George Aitkin)

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Gord winning the 1964 Around the Bay 30km

 

 

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One Comment
  1. January 24, 2015 10:54 am

    Must have been an honour to know such an accomplished and inspirational Canadian runner. Thanks for sharing. RIP Gord.

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