Ask most runners who their idol is, and you usually get one if the greats, Zatopek, Prefontaine, Shorter, Rodgers, Gebrselassie, and so on. My personal choice is different. The runner I have the greatest admiration for is America’s sole Olympic marathon participant in 2000, Rod DeHaven.
He was never world class, though a marathon PR of 2:11:40 is nothing to be sniffed at, but it would not put him into the top of today’s marathon runners. In fact, this time would be unlikely to qualify him for the next Olympics, yet he is still my favourite runner.
The main thing that I find so inspiring is the fact that he was not a full-time runner. It might sound unbelievable, but somehow he managed to combine a full-time job, a family with two children and the training necessary to become a class marathon runner. How he managed that I don’t know, maybe his day had 26 hours. When preparing for the Olympic trials and games he DID cut back a little and went part-time in his job, but he still did up to 30 hours in the office. I find that kind of dedication extremely inspiring, and the fact that he was a computer programmer makes it more exciting as this happens to be my occupation too.
He was a bit unfortunate with his marathons. At the World Championships in 1999 the US management gave him a spoiled drink, he threw up several times between 20 and 30k, and yet still managed to come home in 25th place. The Olympic marathon in Sydney should have been the highlight of his career but he became ill and stopped at a portable toilet halfway through the race. He still finished, albeit in 69th position.
Today, he is working as successful head coach at South Dakota State University, but he still is a very formidable runner in the Masters division. At the age of 40, he ran 31:27 to win a 10.000 meter race earlier this year.