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The Genius of Ted Haydon

Its been quite a while since I've written, my energies taken up with my latest endeavor. Creating a book, like training for a marathon, is a long and winding road, estimates of what it will take always underestimated. This has been no exception.

About two years ago, Al Carius - the Hall of Fame Coach from North Central College, encouraged me to write a book on University of Chicago coach Ted Haydon, but it wasn't until late last fall that the mood struck me. As it is with so many things in life, you get ideas from here and there, but for some reason, Al's suggestion struck a cord.

“I’m back training.” He glanced at a former overweight athlete. “What…for Thanksgiving?” 

If truth be told, there weren't many times I spoke with Ted, any time I did was while coaching at Northwestern and we competing at one of his meets. Ted passed away in the spring of 1985, so it couldn't have been more than four or five times. Hard to believe it was almost 40 years ago.

There was something about this white-haired coach which piqued my interest. A two-time Olympic Coach ('68 & '72) and creator of the University of Chicago Track Club (UCTC), Ted influenced the lives of anyone who crossed paths with him. He was renowned for his witty quips and great humanity, I've never heard a former athlete speak of him with anything but the highest of regards.

"You looked like you were carrying a piano that final'll run faster if you don't stop and play it so often."

He was happy to admit anyone to the club, bragging that the UCTC didn't discriminate - whether it was race, creed, or talent. Ted didn't care if you were 5' high jumper or an 8-minute miler. Everyone in the club was valued. As long as you enjoyed the activity, he felt that was enough. In fact, he coined the phrase, "Run For Fun" to express his philosophy.

Rick Wohlhuter (above) was a 2-time Olympian and World Record holder at 880yds and 1000 meters, he had PR's of 1:44.1 (converted to 800m would be 1:43.6), 2:13.9 in the 1000m (he passed the 800 mark at 1:46), and 3:53.3 in the mile. Oh, and he won a bronze at the '76 Olympics in the 800, and was 5th in the 1500.

On the other side of the coin was Dick King, a US Postal employee, who joined the club in the late 50's. Dick was dogged, yet anything but fast, happy breaking four hours in the marathon, or nine minutes in the mile. He showed up at all the club cross country races and participated in any of the long events on the track, always recognizable by the brown grocery bag he carried his sweats.

“I got my butt kicked today.” Ted responded. “No, someone would have to be behind you before that could happen.”

Al Carius said, "It would be impossible to over-estimate the influence he had on my life...both as a person and as a coach." I heard much the same thing from so many national-caliber athletes, club members like John Craft, Ken Popejoy, Mike Durkin, Hal Higdon, Jan Johnson, Garry Bjorklund, Ira Murchison, Lowell Powell, Pat Matzdorf, Ken Sparks, and of course Rick Wohlhuter, but also from former mile record holder Jim Ryun.

As of this date I've interviewed over fifty former club members, most of the calls exceeding the length of the average teen-age girl. Some stories are ones we've all heard, but there are many that have never been told, some of these having nothing to do with running.

“How can I run faster times?” Queried a runner. “Run shorter races.”

"The Genius of Ted Haydon and the University of Chicago Track Club" should be out in January of 2025.

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