This morning, the ultrarunning community is a smaller place. At 83 years of age, Bill Dooper passed away following a series of strokes. After a quarter century of sharing his good cheer with the ultrarunning community, he’s cheered his last.
But, for more than quarter century, Dooper sure did cheer! I have no doubt that Bill attended more than 100 races during that time. Probably quite a few more. I’d love to hear a guesstimate from a runner who’s been part of the Colorado trail scene for a long time. Regardless of the numbers, Bill cheered on runners at the Leadville Trail 100 Mile, in his adopted hometown, and the Hardrock 100 Mile for 25 years. He’s surely been to just about any other trail race in Leadville during that time. Meghan Hicks of iRunFar recalls meeting Bill when the TransRockies Run passed through Leadville back in 2008. He’s been to San Juan Solstice, Run Rabbit Run, Collegiate Peaks, according to Justin Mock, a number of burro races, as well.
Aside from attending races, Bill followed the sport intently. Although he never owned… or maybe even used a computer, Bill knew what was going on, whether it was from friends printing out and passing along the This Week in Running column or calling his vast network of friends to find out what’s happening. Meghan and I had the pleasure of frequently chatting with him on the phone for this very purpose. Now, if you bumped into Bill when there was a big 100 miler coming up in the U.S. and you were up for a chat, he’d pull out his tiny notebook, talk about his picks, and ask who you’ve got. Not only did Bill love staying informed about the sport, he was, indeed, a fan of it. He was thrilled to know and be friends with some of the top runners. If you were a speedster and you didn’t know Bill, he wouldn’t hesitate in coming up and introducing himself. In many ways, Bill was reserved… but he wasn’t shy!
As much as Bill wanted to know who’d win the big race, he’d flash the same infectious smile and spread the same cheers to everyone else, too. He’d stand for hours on race sidelines and finish lines, in the wee hours of morning and night even, excitedly watching every runner pass by–often forgetting to drink, eat, or put on sunscreen. Whether it was two thumbs up or a high five, Bill let you (whoever you were) know that your effort and attempt made you special.
Now, if you were one of Bill’s closer friends… well, consider yourself fortunate. While I never had a big ask of Bill, I have no doubt that he’d have given me the coat off his back on a cold Leadville evening. If you were one of Bill’s guys or girls, you knew that Bill would do whatever he could for you. In thinking back to January when he was in rehab from the first couple strokes he had this winter, Bill shared a few concerns: finding a ride to and lodging in Silverton for Hardrock, rehabbing to get around while there, and finding me a Hardrock pacer(?!). I’ll admit that I, too, was thinking about those first two points, but I had no worries at all about finding support for my run. The thing is, Bill was just eager to help me, in any way he could.
If he knew you, Dooper was also your biggest fan. This morning, former Leadville resident Mike Ambrose wrote that Bill was, “a friend who believed in me more than I could ever believe in myself.” I feel the very same way. I remember having to convince Dooper to take me off his Hardrock top-10 lists. Fortunately, that wouldn’t damper Dooper’s spirit… he’d still be out on the course cheering me, and everyone else, on.
For all the passion he had for ultrarunning and shared with the ultrarunning world, Bill never ran a single ultramarathon. Not a one. That’s not to say Bill didn’t get after it. In his early- to mid-70s, Dooper was still running trail races with I believe his longest race in the range of a marathon. However, it’s not Bill’s racing that was most impressive–no, up until recently the guy’s fitness routine would put most folks to shame. There’s no doubt that in his mid- to late-70s Dooper was walking 80-plus miles per week up at 10,200-feet elevation Leadville. When he wasn’t walking, he was doing 100s of dumbbell curls and other exercises with weights each day. Even at this time three years ago, half a year after suffering a minor stroke and already in his 80s, Bill was out walking everyday the weather permitted and still going ahead with his lifting routine.
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Once in the past few days–when we knew the end of Bill’s life was imminent–I briefly lamented that it was only now in his final days that Bill felt his passion and positivity reflected back, but, after a bit of contemplation, I realized that’s far from the case.
In visiting Dooper in January, I saw bags of mail many of you had sent him in just a few weeks. As I opened and read some to him, he’d light up when I shared a message from some far-off land and he’d recall a story when the writer’s name was familiar.
For years, when he’d show up at City on a Hill in Leadville or Mobius Cafe in Silverton, he’d often enough be wearing some new hat or jacket or pair of shoes that a friend had given him. He was always grateful for the gift and the friendship that it represented.
Heading back a bit further, there was The Ultimate Fan movie Salomon made about Bill and, in part, his trip to the 2014 Western States 100 Mile. The film touches on the real story there, a bunch of Bill’s friends, spearheaded by Aaron Marks, raised money so that Bill could finally go watch Western States after years of following the race from afar. In the end, the campaign was a success: for Bill, for his friends, and for the dozens of friends he undoubtedly made while in California.
And, then, there are all the friends–in person and remote–who Bill made thanks to that Salomon film. The African Attachment filmmakers did a tremendous job of showing Bill’s spirit and passion. I can’t even begin to count the number of notes I’ve seen in these past months where complete strangers–save for having watched the film–have sent their support Bill’s way. Thanks to all of you. Dooper was also blown away by the fact that so many people had watched that video so many times. He usually had a pretty good idea of what the video’s view count was on YouTube and, since he didn’t use a computer or smartphone, never minded getting an update.
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I’ll admit that I’ve cried more this week than in any week I can remember. I’m heartbroken that the world has lost such a good human being and, selfishly, that I’ve lost one of my best friends. I am not alone in feeling this way. However, just as I’ve been able to recognize that Bill did see the love so many of us had for him during his life, I’m beginning to realize both that so many of us will carry Bill with us for the rest of our lives and that we are better people for having known him.
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Share Your Story and Thoughts About Bill Dooper
Even if you’ve done so elsewhere, we strongly encourage you to share your favorite Bill Dooper memories and your thoughts about him in the comments below. Feel free to cut and paste what you may have posted elsewhere as well as sharing new stories and thoughts.
Also, please send your photos of Bill to us directly. We’ll share some of them here.