Bill Dooper, The Ultimate Friend – In Remembrance

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.

Bill Dooper - 2015 Hardrock 100 - Grouse Gulch

Bill Dooper cheering on runners from Grouse Gulch during the 2015 Hardrock 100. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

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!

Bill Dooper - Iker Karrera - Kilian Jornet

Bill Dooper with Iker Karrera and Kilian Jornet before the 2017 Hardrock 100. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

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.

Bill Dooper - Bryon Powell - Meghan Hicks - City on a Hill

One of the hundreds of photos of Bill Dooper in front of Leadville’s City on a Hill coffee shop. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

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.

* * * * *

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.

Bill Dooper - Hardrock 100 - Two Thumbs Up

It was always two thumbs up from Bill Dooper at the Hardrock 100. Photo: iRunFar

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.

* * * * *

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.

Meghan Hicks - Bill Dooper - 2017 Nolans 14

Bill Dooper giving Meghan Hicks a hug after her unsuccessful Nolan’s 14 bid in 2017. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

* * * * *

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.

Bill Dooper, he’s my guy! Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Mike Ambrose - Bill Dooper - San Juan Solstice

Bill Dooper cheering on his friend Mike Ambrose at the San Juan Solstice race. Photo courtesy of Mike Ambrose.

Kilian Jornet - Bill Dooper - 2014 Hardrock 100

“The first time I met Bill was in Hardrock in 2014, when I was talking with Rick Trujillo and Pablo Vigil. Bill came to met us.” Photo and quote courtesy of Kilian Jornet.

Bill Dooper Finish Line 2015 Hardrock 100 Photo Myke Hermsmeyer

Bill Dooper sitting out the long gap between finishers at the 2015 Hardrock 100. Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer

There are 18 comments

  1. Amy Leedham

    Thank you for sharing this! I never had the pleasure of meeting Bill but the outpouring of memories this week has been impossible to ignore. I never knew the man but from your, and other’s, beautifully written piece, I get a very clear picture of his impact and while I’m not really a crier but I found myself tearing up. Clearly the world needs more Bill Doopers. I would say Rest in Peace, but perhaps something involving walking up mountains is more appropriate?

  2. Stewart Gunyon

    And there you have it: “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.” Whether or not you believe in Heaven, this is it. Beautifully written!! Thank you, Bill!

  3. Aaron

    Thank you so much for sharing this Bryon! My wife and I met Bill at the Leadville marathon last year. I was running and my wife supporting. Bill and she were hanging out at the start/finish. She said he was super friendly and talkative, with his passion for the sport emanating outward. My wife was also 7 months pregnant at the time and he told her that our soon to be son would for sure be an ultrarunner :). That’s one of our fondest memories of the sport thus far.

  4. Mike H

    Thank you modestlyfastishaaron marks and others (and some of the sponsors that contributed to the cause as well) for getting Dooper to WS100 back in the day.

    We’ll miss you, Bill. You’ll always be “our guy!”

  5. Ronald Wright

    We first met Bill in the early 1990’s when we crewed a friend in the Leadville 100 race and came to know him better when Ron started to also run in the various Leadville race. For years we would take our RV to the RV Corral and leave there for the summer so that Ron could train for the Leadville 100. Bill would walk to the Corral to check to see if we had arrived yet and made a point of welcoming us back.. He was the Ultimate individual and a true groupie and fan of the ultra running races. He was always a welcome companion who made a point of checking up on the various crews and runners during the endless waiting of the Leadville 100. His passion and cheerfulness have become a part of our lives. Thank you Bill, heaven now has cheer leader for its ultra runners.
    Ron and Norma Wright

  6. Dan Blankenship

    I’m not sure when I first met Bill, but the last time I saw him was at Run Rabbit Run. He was happily sharing his knowledge and spot-on analysis with everyone, including spectators like me. I was as thrilled to be given one of his hand-annotated “Super Fan” business cards as he was proud to give it. To Bill, everyone in the sport was interesting, even those of us standing on the sidelines. Thanks, Bill, for representing the best of this impressive sport.

    1. Meghan Hicks

      Hi Adam,

      Thanks for asking and, yes, there will be a celebration of Bill’s life, what a big celebration it will be! :) It won’t be immediately, as the goal is to have it a bit further out in the hopes that more people can attend. Details to come as soon as we have firmed them up.

  7. John Vanderpot

    I was introduced to him some summers back up there in LV, he let me get him a cup of coffee, I’d been in the woods for a few days and he had a printed out copy of WIR, we went over the WS results, and there was a real sense of being in the presence of something truly special…


  8. bud

    If there is something like life after death, Bill, we will see you out in front of the City on the Hill Coffe Shop in Leadville, the aid stations of the Leadville trail races, or wandering around Silverton during Hardrock. Take care, Bill – your spirit ain’t gone.

  9. Bruce

    One of the nicest most gentle people I have ever met. I will never forget meeting Bill in 1999. I was a nobody kid and Leadville was my first ultra. I was sitting on a bench in town maybe a week before the race, just staring around wide eyed wondering how the hell this was all supposed to happen. Bill walked up, sat down and gave me whatever wisdom and encouragement he could. It was spontaneous and heartfelt and genuine and I vividly remember it 19 years later. Thanks again Bill.

  10. andy mcbreen

    I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting Bill before the start of the Hardrock 2017. He was such a warm, thoughtful and kind soul. We chatted about the race and runners Who inspired Us. God Bless You Bill. I will miss Your amazing spirit and kind genuine soul.

  11. Steve Pero

    That last photo says a lot about Bill…Deb and I were back of the pack finishers at Hard rock and Bill was always there in the wee hours of the morning to greet us as we kissed the rock. RIP, Bill…someday we’ll be together again.

  12. Clare Gallagher

    Bill fought hard. It’s motivation to continue on like he lived: with precise passion. He cared about us like we were NFL players in charge of the world. I’m forever grateful and inspired to be better because of Bill. Thank you for this tribute, Byron and Meghan. <3

  13. Glenn Mackie

    It was always a pleasure seeing Bill in Silverton for Hardrock and his big smile when he’d see you. He’d carry a scrap of paper in his pocket with his prediction for top 10 finishers “Bill’s List” and ask what you thought.

    My favorite memory is from 2007 when Bill stood on the outskirts of Silverton with my 6 year old son waiting for my finish. Someone took a picture which I’ve framed at home.

    Bill’s love of the sport of ultrarunning and those that put themselves through it was pure.

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