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Marathon great Beardsley spreads word on survival

Today, following a host of accidents and struggles with drug addiction, Beardsley shares his stories with people who are facing many of the same problems.

Dick Beardsley has had quite a life -- dairy farmer, world-class marathoner, pill addict, broken and bloodied accident victim (multiple times) and now a family man living in Austin, Texas.

But what could this 55-year-old Minneota native possibly have to tell us?

We'll find out. He's now a professional motivational speaker bent on helping those afflicted with chemical dependencies.

He'll be in the area for several engagements starting Friday and including the role of honorary race director at the 8th Green Lake Triathlon at 8 a.m. Sunday in Spicer.

"I'm looking forward to returning to Minnesota," said the two-time winner of Grandma's Marathon in an email this week.

Dave Baker, Green Lake Tri race director, is responsible for bringing Beardsley here. Dave has a personal story in the horrors of addiction.

Dan Baker, the son of Dave and Mary Baker, died on March 9 this year at age 25 of an accidental overdose. He had an addiction to prescription drugs that began with a back problem while in college.

"I heard about (Beardsley) from a nephew right after our son's burial," said Dave. "He'd heard Dick speak and was impressed. I looked him up on the Internet and could see his struggles were much like our son's. I'd say to everyone how hard it is to beat these powerful pills the doctors are handing out (if one becomes habituated)," said Dave.

Beardsley somehow survived his torturous path to tell about it.

The 1975 Wayzata graduate grew up on his parent's farm in western Hennepin County. Too light for the football team at a big school, he tried cross-country and track. He never made it to the state meet in either but in his early 20s began running marathons and proved a natural.

In his first marathon at Hurley, Wis., in 1977, he clocked out at 2:47.14. From there, he posted 13 personal-bests in a row, which got him in the Guinness Book of Records. By 1980 he had signed a pro contract with New Balance and would run a 2:15.11 in Eugene, Ore. The unknown Midwesterner tied for first place at the first-ever London Marathon in 2:11.48 and then won the 1981 Grandma's Marathon in 2:09.37, a course record still standing.

In April 1982, came the "Duel in the Sun" where the upstart matched strides with world-famous Alberto Salazar. Cut off by a motorcycle just before the finish, Beardsley lost by two seconds but his time of 2:08.53 was electrifying and promised a brilliant career for the 26-year-old farm kid.

But that race turned out to be the pinnacle of his career. He won Grandma's again in '82 (2:14.49) but developed problems with his Achilles tendon that surgery could not repair.

He turned to dairy farming (he has an associated degree in agriculture). His farm near Taylor Falls soon was producing award-winning herds, and he also ran a fishing guide business.

He tried again in 1986 qualifying for the Olympic Trials with a 2:16 but by 1988 and a 45th place at the Trials it was clear the marathon magic was behind him.

The next six years of Beardsley's life could fill a medical textbook. He survived a farm accident when he was ripped up by a tractor auger lifting corn. Then came two serious car accidents -- a T-bone and a rollover -- followed by accidents while road running and a fall while hiking.

There were back operations and a knee surgery along the way. Pain medication became a staple. More and more pills were needed to ease the pain, both mental and physical.

He started forging prescriptions and driving from drug store to drug store in northwest Minnesota to gather pills, like a squirrel stashing walnuts. It was a question of which would come first: a deadly overdose or getting busted.

Fortunately, he was caught. That "saved my life and put the brakes on my downward spiral," his bio states.

After nine days in a Fargo psychiatric unit and then outpatient treatment while quitting methadone cold turkey, he emerged drug free in February 1997. He's now well into his 15th year of sobriety, coaches distance runners and is a competitive age-class marathoner.

"The disease of addiction is like nothing else a person can go through," he states. "There are times when you wonder if you will ever get better, there are times when you think it would be better to go back to your old ways. This is the disease talking, it's always right there ready to jump on your back in the slightest moment of weakness ... (Recovery) will be the hardest thing you ever do, but it's worth every ounce of energy you put into it."

Besides speaking Beardsley and his wife Jill established the Dick Beardsley Foundation to help others afflicted with chemical dependence.

Beardsley's schedule

Here's a look at Dick and Jill Beardsley's schedule, as provided by Dave Baker, while in the area (times are approximate): Friday -- 10 a.m. KWLM Open Mic; noon. Project Turnabout at Granite Falls (private); 2-4 p.m. Friday Kandiyohi County Fair Tobacco Coalition Booth ... Saturday -- 8 a.m., Kids Triathlon, Spicer; 5-7 p.m. Green Lake Tri packet pick-up; 7 p.m. casual gathering at Melvin's on the Lake ... Sunday -- 8 a.m. Honorary Race Director 8th Green Lake Triathlon.

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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