Tony Remembers Thorpe

Tony Schiller comments on the life and passing of Thorpe Running.

Hopefully, there's a silver lining in this news... as much as Thorpe wanted to experience the good things, I know that life was a daily struggle for him in so many ways. I don't know how long he might have been suffering in the end, but certainly, had it not been for the accident he'd still be out there racing and probably a lot like Bobby Powers in the years to come.I remember getting the news of his accident from Daryl and Pam shortly after it happened. If memory serves, they told me at one of our first banquets, probably at the University Club. Perhaps the reason his accident hit me so emotionally was that I'd never made him more than a casual racing acquaintance. Though his fate had nothing to do with me, it stirred something in me that in all those years of seeing Thorpe at races, I'd never paused to truly visit with the man... to have the chance to say that I ran or rode with him. It made me think about all the people in our community that I knew, but didn't really know at all. Having been so consumed with trying to be "the guy" for so long, guys like Thorpe just became part of the backdrop... you saw them and were glad they were there, but hardly ever noticed and reflected on the greater value they brought.

That Thorpe was fast and successful was not lost on me. He seemed to always be on the podium for his age group. I was also aware of something else... that he'd always greeted me with a friendly, "Hi Tony, good luck today," wish, and also often shared words of appreciation for my performances. Upon hearing about his accident I realized that it was always one way... always Thorpe walking up to me, never the other way around. But now, if he could even survive the accident, he'd never again be able to do that simple gesture of being able to walk up and wish someone well before a race. Suddenly, that ability to wish someone well seemed more important than being able to win a race.

So news of his battle for life struck me in an emotional way and I felt compelled to return the favor by walking up to wish him well. Though my gesture was trite and trivial, Thorpe didn't see it that way. He was outwardly moved that I had made a special trip just to see him. He was out of the ICU but not nearly out of the woods as the complications from his neck down paralysis were literally mounting and making another day's survival a feat in itself. We spent a couple hours getting to know each other, especially sharing favorite racing stories. I worried that talk of racing would depress him but Thorpe said something to the effect of, "No, don't stop, all my racing will be in my mind now, so the stories are more important than ever."There would be other visits, including one to his St. Cloud home where I saw his world-class LP record library and the amazing sound system that allowed him to play them. We sat looking across his prairie as the music cranked loudly. The Rolling Stones have never sounded so sweet. Thorpe and Chery's new home was impressive with all the technology needed for him to function and carry on. And despite the fact that his days were filled by a barrage of health challenges, he tried his best to give positive energy to each person who came to visit. But of course he missed racing immensely and told me that not a day goes by when he doesn't close his eyes and visualize himself walking out the door and running down the road.

His courage inspired me to create the Thorpe Running Inspirational Award in his honor as a way of remembering the lessons of his example, both before and after his accident. Now that he is gone, I think the award - given each year to one of our own who's shown strength and courage while going through their own difficult times - will have even more meaning.Two of the many lessons from Thorpe's life I hope to never forget are...

1) never dwell in self pity when running into a harsh wind or when struggling to finish a difficult race - it is truly a blessing to get to choose to take the next step.

2) never take all those familiar faces we see at races for granted - before and after each race, reach out as the encourager to a new friend - it absolutely will make your day more meaningful and you never know when the gesture will change a life - maybe your own.

Tony Schiller
BreakAway Motivation
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