“Hi! I'm Don Anderson! I just moved here. Good luck today!”
That's how Tom Felger remembers it at the starting line of a Fort Wayne road race in 1985.
“He was so energetic, so outgoing,” Felger said. “I think he said, 'Hi! I'm Don Anderson' a dozen times. I thought, who is this guy?”
Then the race started, and it was good that Anderson had introduced himself. It would been rude to just show up and dust everyone.
Anderson, who was about as rude as he was slow, passed away Sunday at age 85. It had been a few years since he competed in local road races, but his speed, enthusiasm and support of fellow runners will long be remembered.
“Don's house was in Lincoln Village along a course that my runners often ran in the mornings,” said former Northrop coach Barrie Peterson. “Whenever he was around, he would talk to and encourage my runners. They were always impressed by his display of trophies and awards in his garage. He exuded quite an influence on those young minds!”
That garage on Valdosta Drive not only was the place of “influence” for young runners, but over the past decade it became a place of rejuvenation for older runners.
“Often I would run by his house hoping he was out so we could catch up,” said neighbor and fellow runner Len Piropato. “He would be riding his exercise bike and I would just marvel at all his trophies and awards. I especially liked his old running shoes; real classics.”
Another neighbor and fellow runner, Mike Yann, said he looked forward to his visits at Anderson's garage.
“I would stop and talk with him often,” Yann said. “When I filled out my (Fort Wayne Track Club) membership questionnaire, he was the person I put down as a great influence on me.”
Yann said that over the years he raced Anderson often but “never did I have a chance to come in before him.”
Anderson was not just a successful “age grouper,” but became a nationally ranked 10K and 5K runner in his 70s. He competed at the National Senior Games several times, placing in the top five in the 5K much of the time.
A few examples of his highlights: At the 1997 Zoom Thru Zulu 10K, Anderson (age 70) finished the 6.2-mile race in 47 minutes, 29 seconds, an impressive 7:38-per-mile pace. Six years later, he finished a 10K in 51:42, an 8:19 pace per mile. Also in 2003, at age 76, he ran a 5K in 25:20.
It was then Anderson drifted away from competition. His focus had become the care of his wife, Carol, who was in failing health. (She passed away in 2010.) Also, an arthritic knee and, finally, a successful battle with prostate cancer eventually ended his running career.
“It was hard on him because he ran all his life,” Felger said. “He was running as a kid. He ran before it was popular. (In the 1960s) he would run at 3 a.m. so his neighbors wouldn't see him.”
Race results show Anderson competed locally just once each in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Bottom line: He didn't want to compete if he couldn't, well, compete. So he hit the exercise bike for 10 miles every day. And if the weather was good, the door was up and the parade of friends, fellow runners and admirers would pass by.
Ironically, one of Anderson's favorite races each year was the Runners on Parade 5K, used to start the Three Rivers Festival Parade. There he could compete on a flat, fast course and against the best of northeast Indiana. He would delight in competing against those young Northrop runners and many others one-fifth his age. He would enjoy talking and trading advice with runners of all ages before and after the race. In fact, in 2001 at age 74, Anderson finished in 25:09 to place 263rd out of 405 runners.
This Saturday, Mac McAvoy will direct Runners on Parade and plans to recognize Anderson.
“A genuinely kind man,” McAvoy said of Anderson. “He always took time to thank me for my work in putting on races, even when my effort did not produce the finest result. In fact, I should say it was at those times, especially, that he would say something positive to me.”
RUNNERS ON PARADE 5K
When: 8 a.m. Saturday
Where: Downtown Fort Wayne. Race starts and finishes at S. Calhoun and Superior St. with check-in at The Headwaters Park tent.
Registration: No race-day registration. Pre-race registration at www.runrace.net or preregister in person at Friday's packet pickup.
Packet pickup: 2-8 p.m. Friday at Three Rivers Running Company, 4039 N. Clinton St.