“I couldn’t run a few steps without falling over,” Gerry said as we ran through Honolulu’s Ala Moana Park. Little did I know that running with 71-year-old Gerry Lindgren during my short trip to Hawaii to teach the REVO₂LUTION RUNNING™ certification course was going to be so profound of an experience.
Gerry began running as a high school sophomore in Washington state “to get out of the house.” His father, he told me during our run, was an alcoholic and his mother was an enabler.
“I was the slowest runner on the cross country team,” he said. One day, he sprinted out in front of everyone during an interval workout on the track. Halfway through the lap, he ran out of gas and everyone passed him. “I always saw myself as a wimp. I have been a wimp my whole life,” he says.
After that workout, his coach took him aside and told him, “You’ll never beat these guys when they get in shape, but you can help the team by taking the early lead, because they just ran their fastest workout by chasing you.”
And so Gerry Lindgren took the pace out fast in every race so he could help his team.
If you follow track and field, you know who Gerry Lindgren is, and you know how this story ends. This uncoordinated teenage kid who couldn’t run a few steps without falling and who saw himself as a wimp went on to run a 4:01 mile, 8:40 two-mile, and 13:44 5K while in high school, set American records, ran in the Olympics, and became one of the best runners in the world. But what you probably don’t know is how and why he got there.
“When I had run the fastest time in the country for two miles, I said to myself, “Now how could a wimp be the fastest in the country?” It’s remarkable how something as simple as running fast can quickly improve your self-esteem.
Given my interest in how running enables us to deal with discomfort that I wrote about in The Inner Runner, I asked Gerry how he was able to take the pace out so fast and hold on, where that ability to deal with discomfort came from.
“I was able to do it when I knew it was for the team. When I ran for myself, that ability was never there. When I ran to help others, it was always there.”
Gerry Lindgren’s words were so profound that they nearly stopped me in my tracks in Ala Moana Park.
“That’s a life lesson, Gerry,” I said to him. “You could take that message all over the world.”
I learned a lot about Gerry Lindgren (and about life) while running with him in Hawaii. He told me his favorite runner to race was Ron Clarke from Australia because Ron always ran an honest race, running fast from the start. (“Because Ron ran so fast early in the race, he didn’t have a great kick, so he could be beaten if the other runners could stay with him early,” Gerry said.) But what I learned the most is that we can accomplish a lot more when we get out of our own way and serve others instead of serving ourselves. Gerry truly believes that, and believes it was the reason for his success. I wish I had met Gerry Lindgren and knew his story before writing The Inner Runner because I would have included his story in the book.
I asked him how many people knew his story. “Not that many,” he said. Well, I hope they do now.
Follow Gerry Lindgren on Facebook (@gerrythejogger), and if you’re ever in Honolulu, go for a run with him and ask him to tell you a story.