I have to imagine that just about every Western States runner of the past 40 years has a Dr. Lind story. The truth is, this amazing man was a fixture at the race for decades and his work as a physician studying the impact of long distance running on the human body was transformational. And so it was with great sadness that we learned of his passing earlier this week at the age of 81.
Dr. Lind was an integral part of the race literally from the beginning as a doctor who monitored Gordy Ainsleigh’s condition throughout his inaugural run in 1974. A Western States Board Member for over 30 years, Dr. Lind devoted much of his life to seeking a deeper understanding of the ultrarunning and the human condition. His research and practice has been essential to the development of more systematic analysis of long distance running’s impact on critical human organs like the heart, kidney, and liver. In fact, without Dr. Lind’s pioneering work we may still be struggling to understand many of the mysteries of this sport of ours. Famous for his great quip about determining how a runner was doing in the race, “I would look into his eyes to see if his soul had separated from his body.”
The first time I met Dr. Lind was at Dusty Corners (mile 38) at Western States in 2001. I stumbled into the aid station already feeling the effects of the heat and promptly dropped into a chair. Dr. Lind came over to me and, noticing my salt encrusted singlet, encouraged me to get some fluids down and handed me a cup of chicken broth. I drank it and immediately started feeling better. In his calm way, he just guided me through what I needed to do as I made my way through the Canyons and he had me hanging on every word. When I crossed the finish line 16 hours later he was right there to congratulate me. It was amazing.
The next time I encountered Dr. Bob was in 2005 at the pre-race briefing in Squaw Valley. He had followed my case of acute renal failure that I suffered at the 2004 Angeles Crest and gave me a rather stern talking to prior to the ’05 race. Obviously, he didn’t want me to repeat that at “his race.” Throughout the day, I distinctly recall seeing him three times. Each time he came over to me when I got on the scale and just put his hand on my shoulder and asked me how I was feeling. The last time, at Highway 49 just 6.5 miles from the finish, his soothing voice literally brought me to tears.
The last meaningful exchange I had with Dr. Lind was in 2011 after finishing my fastest Western States. In the post-race euphoria I nearly passed out and, of course, he was there to catch me. When we retired to the medical tent Bob sidled over to where Shelly and I were sitting and just looked at me. Shelly began asking questions about why he thought I always felt like I would pass out after finishing Western States and he used the best “heart as a pump” analogy ever. It was a description in perfectly simple layman’s terms that helped us understand what was going on and what to do to address it.
In essence, that was perhaps Bob’s greatest gift. He had a way of simplifying things without dumbing them down. A way of expressing himself calmly and with authority that just made you want to listen. When I got home from work on Wednesday night and told Shelly that Dr. Lind had died she walked over to me, gave me a hug, and began to cry. It was one of those moments when we both realized we had lost a man who had transformed us and made us better people without really even trying. He will be sorely missed.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
During this week of sadness for the ultrarunning community and out of respect for Dr. Lind and the entire Western States family there will not be a Beer of the Week.
Call for Comments (from Bryon)
What memories do you have of Dr. Lind?