I was in the back seat of a car one day, and I saw a runner on the shoulder of Bigelow Gulch Road just outside Spokane. “Is that Gerry Lindgren?” I asked.
“Yes,” my parents replied. “That’s Gerry Lindgren.”
Gerry Lindgren, in the WSU uniform, leading an indoor race
Though I remember the incident well, I was an elementary school student with no great interest in distance running, and I have no idea how I knew about Gerry Lindgren. Perhaps it’s what he did when he was an 18-year old high school senior.
The country’s top runners gathered at a meet to decide who’d be on the U.S. national track team. The top two runners in each running event would face Russia in the summer of 1964. Gerry finished ahead of more experienced, accomplished runners and was entered in the 10,000 meters.
In the midst of the Cold War and the on-going communism vs. capitalism rivalry, the annual US-USSR track meet occupied a big stage. It was the most important track and field event for the US other than the Olympics, and in the five previous years of the meet, no American had won the 10,000 meters. Of course, you can guess who won the race, and I imagine the resulting media coverage from that meet, and Gerry running in the Olympics a few months later reached a young boy who was just learning to read and watched black and white TV.
Gerry Lindgren winning the US vs. USSR 10,000 meters in the Los Angeles Coliseum
Though I’ve never met Gerry, I went to the same high school, graduating 11 years after him. His coach, Tracy Walters, was still on the faculty at Rogers High School and occasionally told us about the teams from that era and how many miles they ran. At one point Gerry ran 25 to 35 miles a day, seven days a week. I’ve read that he once put in 380 miles in one week.
In my early teens, before I took up running, I occasionally saw Gerry run past my house at the corner of Cincinnati and Central in Spokane. I yelled out, “Hi, Gerry”, because, you know, he was famous. My brother and I talked about how Gerry replied “Good morning” when it was always the afternoon when he ran past. I’ve since figured out why – with all the miles he ran, he likely had started his run at the crack of dawn.
Another time when I was in my mid-teens, I was watching the local news and the newscaster announced that a big-name celebrity had appeared at a fund-raiser. It was a local, small-time thing, and I knew there was no way someone from Hollywood had been enticed to come to Spokane. The only person it could be was Gerry Lindgren. Sure enough, it was him, but apparently to cast an aura of mystery, he was wearing a brown paper bag over his head. It didn’t seem odd at the time, but later I thought what a strange thing for the organizers to ask of their benevolent celebrity.
Is this Gerry Lindgren or me trying to recreate a long ago news broadcast?
When I was in high school, I purchased a Runners World booklet about Gerry that has sat in my closet for many years. I decided to re-read it before writing this post.
Inside, I found Gerry’s autograph, and I have no idea how I got it. I’m completely mystified. As I mentioned before, I’ve never met Gerry, though we are Facebook friends.I’m not an autograph collector, so I’ve decided to sell it to benefit charity. You’ll find it at a-bay.com. That’s a-bay, not eBay, which stands for autograph bay. All the other Gerry Lindgren autographs start in the five figures, but I’ve listed mine for the very attractive opening bid of $3000. All proceeds from the sale will benefit running programs on Spokane’s north side, generally located near Franklin Park with an emphasis on cape-wearing and runners whose first and last name begin with J.
Thank-you in advance for getting into a bidding war that will benefit this very deserving charity.