John DeWalt, 1936-2013
I’ll never forget standing outside the Silverton High School gym shortly before 6 a.m. on the finishing day of Hardrock in 2009. I was there with my son, Carson, when around the corner came this old guy in a blue VHTRC t-shirt lilting to the side and holding himself up with a stick.
“Carson, see that guy?” I said to my 12-year old son. “I want to be like him someday.”
“Dad, you can’t. He’s a total bad ass.” Carson replied, as only a 12-year-old can.
A few hours later in the Silverton gym as we were awaiting the start of the awards ceremony, I was able to spend a few minutes chatting with that guy, John DeWalt, and I was impressed and awed by his entire persona.
First, there were the eyes. Deep blue, intense, yet whimsical. Set back in a hardscrabble face that seemed to be carved from the bedrock of central Pennsylvania where it had been shaped, his visage had an intensity and calmness. Then, the smile, that knowing grin that seemed to emerge from within and irrepressibly told a story of hope and aspiration. The shoulders and trunk were solid rock and the legs, well, John’s legs were like those of many ultrarunners, shaped from years on the trail yet surprisingly unimpressive looking when compared to the rest of him. In short, John DeWalt was a truly impressive figure and a brief chat with him on that July morning in 2009 told me I was in the presence of a great man.
It turned out that John’s 2009 Hardrock finish would be his 14th and last in a wonderfully appropriate time of 47:47. A few months earlier, the 73-year-old had finished a loop at the Barkley Marathons in just over 12 hours, proving once again that the tougher the event, the more successful John was in tackling it.
John grabbing a page of book 1 at Barkley 2009. Video courtesy of Mike Bur
There are many, many John DeWalt stories that others could tell much better than I. Stories of adventure runs across Pennsylvania that ended with police actions and frustrated Shoney’s waitresses, stories of long days on the Barkley course with the likes of Dennis Herr and David Horton, stories of epic, 28-hour, 50k runs. And, of course, stories from the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado where John’s legend will forever reside.
John DeWalt passed away last Saturday at the age of 77. John leaves a legacy for us all to
admire and attempt to emulate. Who can forget the awards ceremony at the 2008 Hardrock 100 when James Varner and friends, including newly minted course record holder Kyle Skaggs, donned bright yellow DeWalt Tools t-shirts to honor their septugenarian hero? If ever there was a man who embodied the old-school grit and fortitude that is so much a part of ultrarunning, John DeWalt is that man.
Rising out of hardscrabble roots in Pennsylvania and coming of age in the 1950s, John DeWalt knew hardship and embraced it. John found joy in the suffering of clamoring up a remote powerline cut or gasping for air over a 14,000-foot peak. John knew how to have a good time and loved to be part of the fun. Most of all, without ever really trying, John DeWalt inspired thousands. For that and all the memories he has left behind, he will be sorely missed.
To John DeWalt,
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from John’s home state of Pennsylvania. Tröegs Brewing Company’s Perpetual IPA is a surprisingly sweet IPA that has a kick to it but is not cloying. It’s a great summer beer and is best on draft and really cold.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
Do you have a fond memory of John DeWalt? Feel welcome to share it in the comments section below so that we can all continue to be inspired by the man who helped make our sport what it is today.