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Gerry Lindgren's 2006 National Distance Running Hall of Fame Acceptance Speech

by Gerry Lindgren

On the weekend of the 2006 Utica, New York, Boilermaker 15K, Gerry Lindgren, Marty Liquori, and Patti Catalano Dillon were inducted into the National Distance Running Hall of Fame. Gerry was a phenomenal high school and collegiate runner. In high school, he ran 150 to 200 miles a week. Gerry broke the existing high school mile record of 4:08 by running 4:01.5. His 5K high school record of 13:44 stood for over 40 years until broken in 2004. He still holds the national high school 2-mile indoor record of 8:40, set over 40 years ago when he lowered the record by 49 seconds. He was the first American to win a distance event (10K) in a Soviet Union/United State Meetwhile still in high school. As a collegiate runner at Washington State, Gerry won 11 national individual titles. Gerry was the only person to ever defeat Steve Prefontaine in an NCAA championship. Gerry and Billy Mills set the 6-mile world record in a photo finish with a time of 27:11.6. Today he works as an assistant coach at the University of Hawaii womens track-and-field team, and also trains athletes from around the world. Gerry gave me permission to post his acceptance speech as inspiration for runners. Here is his speech.

Thank you very much. It is nice to be here, and to be inducted into your Hall of Fame. This is such a reversal for me. When I first started running I was in [junior] high school, and I wanted to play football. Of course, I was too little [115 pounds]. I wanted to play baseball, and I was too uncoordinated, and I played basketball [55], well [Laughter]

That led me into their track team. To play track, they had to have a physical. My resting heart rate was 105, and my oxygen uptake was 4.8 liters of oxygen, for both of them red flags went up, and they would not let me run track. So instead I had just a paper route. I would run the paper route every day.

As a 9th grader I decided Id try the track team again. The coach said okay, and my physical didnt disqualify me for some reason. But they kicked me off the team again because I kept falling down. I was uncoordinated. One day the coach said, If you fall down 3 times, you are off the team. I was gone. [Laughter]

So when I got to high school, there were a couple of good milers in my high school, and I kept reading reports down in junior high school about these guys, and how well they were doing, what amazing runs they were having against each other. Thats what decided me about being a miler You dont think about that you cant run at all, because you dont even think that way. I was going to be a miler.

So when I went to high school and found myself the wimpiest kid on the cross-country team and the slowest by so far, it was unbelievable The other guys on the team did not want me on the team, because I was such a wimp. Every time we started the race, I would get an elbow or get kicked with spiked shoes or something. Every time, I got so angry. I really wanted to quit. I hated my wimpy body. I hated my high squeaky voice. They were things that God had given me to punish me.

And when I was just about to quit the team, the coach came to me and said, You have an opportunity that most people never get. He said that because I had a wimpy body and high squeaky voice, there probably was no way I was going to make the varsity on the cross-country team. He said there was probably no way I would ever get a letter as a runner. He said now, at the beginning of the season, when everybody is out of shape, I could do a great service, not only to the runners on the team, but for people everywhere who think that kids on the back halls behind the schools smoking cigarettes because they dont have anything that they can do with their lives. They just dont think that they can make it a contribution. He said you can show those people because you are so skinny and wimpy, if you can run in the front and play the rabbit, it would not only make the team better, it might even inspire others to think, If Gerry Lindgren can do it, I can do it too.

So that was my motivation, because I decided that I was going to be the kid. It was a stupid thing back then, because I couldnt stay up with anybody. But I took off like a rabbit and tried as hard to get away from everybody as I possibly could. They would always run me down, and I would end up last at the time. But finally I got so that some of the guys in the back were not catching me. By the time we got to our first cross-country meet, I could stay up with most of the guys on the team by the end.

In the first cross-country meet, I took off like a shot and one of the best runners on our team came by, and I tucked in behind him, and I finished right behind him in second place for our team. Of course, four guys from the other school went by, but I didnt even think of them. I was just trying to stay up with our team. I thought I had done really good; I had finished in the top 10 in the cross-country meet.

The coach came up to me and said, If that is the kind of runner you going to be, I dont want you on my team, I am kicking you off the team. Those runners went by and you did nothing to make their victory good. You didnt give anything that they had to work. You didnt make them do something special. You didnt show the courage that you should show as a wimp. [Laughter]

He sure taught me. I said, How can I help this person? How can I make him a little better person? And the coach kept putting me in bigger and bigger competitions. I found myself in races and run my guts off just to try to make sure that whoever was going to beat me would have to run hard. I started winning races. And I really was hard to deal with that, as much as it is being in the Hall of Fame, because Im still just that same wimp with a high squeaky voice

I won a lot of big races, and I had a history that was just awesome as a runner. I could never have asked for more. And for me, I still dont really understand it. So I try to come to grips with it all and say, how did I do this? I had to believe I wanted to make sure that other people knew how to get to know to where they could run right.

And it is not the physical workouts you do. I think it is your attitude in your heart. So I wrote a book, and it just came out. It is called Gerry Lindgrens Book on Running. It is written by the guy behind me, it is my shadow that wrote the book, the shadow of Gerry Lindgren. The shadow can say things I could never say, it would be embarrassing

I want to thank you for inducting me into the Hall of Fame. It is something I seriously thought would never happen Hopefully my entry will help some other runner someday will see what I have done and say, I can do better. Thank you.