Good Morning Gordy
The following is an excerpt from my thought diary while logging some miles with Gordy. Through conversation and minimal research, I’ve determined Gordy started not only the Western States 100 mile running race, but also ultra distance trail running in the United States as we know it.
Gordy starts: I’d fallen in with bad company. We weren’t bad, really, just bored. My friend John got caught stealing a candy bar and it just so happened that, at one time or another, we had also relocated a couple delineators. John went on house arrest; eventually he got antsy and started giving names. Local authorities came to my house, arrested me, and put me on probation. Pretty soon after that my mom said: “Let’s move Gordy to the country”.
Gordy is tall, much taller than me, with big hands, big legs and long gray hair that blends with a big bushy grey beard. Gordy was the first person in the United States, and likely the world, to take on the challenge of a 100 mile foot race.
Gordy goes on: The school I transferred from in the suburbs had something crazy, like twelve hundred students; I would have never played sports with that kind of competition. But out in the country things are different. Out in the country there is plenty of room at the top. I turned out for wrestling, and it turned out that the coach for the wrestling also coached cross-country; he needed a third to strengthen his relay squad; that’s probably where it all began.
I first noticed Gordy after breakfast. He was filling up his water bottles. His tall frame hunched over an orange juice pitcher, delicately tipping towards two homemade hand-held water bottles, then whipping the salt shaker in the general vicinity of the bottles.
I’m attracted to people like Gordy—a kind disregard for whatever everyone else is doing, non-disruptive, and forever interesting to follow.
Gordy goes on: They wouldn’t let me run Western States one year because of my appeal to the board. The director had put a stop to the horse race that occurs a couple weeks before the running race because he believed the trail could not withstand the horse’s impact. Well, ultra running attracts a pretty powerful group; I sent out a few letters to fellow ultra distance runners who happened to be involved with parks and protected areas who happen to know BLM officials of the area, and what do you think happened next? The horse race was back on.
Gordy didn’t get to race that year but his style based principles is timeless in the world of endurance folks. Most ultra runners I meet are at the top tier of a tier system they made up, in a non-elitist, non-intrusive sort of way. Like Gordy, these people are innovators and don’t give a hoot about what anyone else thinks; the same characteristics that define some of the greatest innovators of our time.
Gordy goes on: I’m not a manager. I’m not good at managing things. I’m an inventor.
I’d applied to Berkley after high school. In my letter of intent I didn’t have a single materialistic goal. Being the late 70’s with all the student riots and the whole thing going on I think they saw me as threat, so they sent me to UC Santa Barbara—with all the other kids they saw as a threat. It was a pretty crazy time, I took a club to the head; I was singing a Martin Luther King song, you know—‘you can’t stop me now’. Then “whap”. I took a night club to the head so that pretty much ended that. I wasn’t too worried about it because the scar was hidden by my hairline but now I’m losing my hair, so that didn’t work out.
Gordy adjusting his sun faded visor keeping to keep long hair from his eyes.
Gordy goes on: At any rate in ’79, there tacked on the wall of the University of Santa Barbara Stables, was flyer for the Western States Horse Race. I gave it a once over and said; ‘heck’ that’s only an hour from my house. I wrote the director and asked to get in, she said I was too late, so I bought a horse marked my calendar, and raced it the next year.
Gordy and I started up a hill and we both lost our breath. My thoughts launched into questioning what prompts a person to ditch an animal with legs perfectly capable of carrying in exchange for using their own legs to propel—Gordy’s thoughts launched into who knows what.
The year after completing the great Western States Horse Race, Gordy got rid of his horse, laced up his shoes, filled his homemade hand-held water bottles with orange juice and table salt, and set out to do something no one else had thought of doing. Years later, the result is one of the most popular running races in the world and a multimillion dollar trail running industry.
In the end, and in his early sixties, the important thing about Gordy is that he isn’t burnt out on a trend he started, he’s on the trail, inspired, and keeping the rest of us psyched about getting our shoes muddy.