Debbie Heald Set an Important Record
Forty years ago, a California teenager ran a race that shocked the world. It seemed important at the time. It's even more important now.
By Steve Friedman, Runner's World
They are sitting together at a round oak table in a sun-soaked living room on a mountain ridge in Ukiah, California, surrounded by fir trees and hiking trails. It’s late spring, and they are an hour from the Pacific Ocean, 45 minutes from Mendocino National Forest, and nearly 500 miles from the place where they first changed each other’s lives. Forty years ago, when she was just 16 and sometimes running 10 or 12 miles a day, he helped her accomplish something no female high school runner had ever done before, and none has done since.
He’s 73 now, retired. She’s 57, living on psychiatric disability.
It’s a perfect Northern California day, clear and not too hot. The sliding glass doors to the wooden deck are open, and outside, birds twitter and occasionally car tires softly kiss the twisting pavement outside his front door. Inside, the old friends watch a footrace on his laptop computer.
The audio is odd. The clicking of film. The stentorian voice of the legendary sports broadcaster Jack Whitaker, his voice filled with urgency even during the introductions. And there is a strange pounding, like people smacking bats together, or a boxing timekeeper pounding his hammer before a round’s end. It’s the runners’ feet pounding the indoor wooden track. Four runners, 11 laps, one Mile.
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