I am proud to count Australian Ron Clarke among my good friends. We have exchanged visits. He is now 76 years old and served as mayor of the Gold Coast just south of the Great Barrier Reef from 2004 to 2012.
But that is not the reason that his name is etched in the record books. Ron is simply one of the greatest runners ever. At one time, he held every world record for distances from 2 miles to 20 km. In 1965, he broke twelve world records within 44 days. He shattered the 3-mile mark by 13 seconds, an unheard-of feat.
He carried the Olympic torch at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. He gave me a special tour of this fabled facility, where his mementos are displayed to celebrate his glorious athletic career. He nearly died from altitude sickness at the Mexico City Olympics because of his habit of pushing himself beyond his limits, and suffered minor permanent heart damage as a souvenir.
He served as the Grand Marshal of the Gold Coast Marathon that Ruth Anne and I ran 20 years ago. He told us which turns to take. The heat that day was no fun.
Several years ago, Ron visited Stanford for a conference that I held. He even allowed us admirers to beat him in a 5K race around campus.
On that visit he spoke at our banquet, and recalled the time when, late in his career, he raced against Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe, who were then at the top of their form. These three fabled runners traded the lead for the first three laps. Then the others pulled ahead and left Ron behind.
Ron's message from that experience? "The race of life goes not to the one who starts out first, but to the one who slows down last."
A lesson for all to adopt.