Dick Beardsley, who in 1982 thrilled the nation with the closest finish in the history of the Boston Marathon, laughed after watching footage on a projector of his famous race.
"I'm worn out," Beardsley said Monday morning at the Joy Center at Black Hills State University. "I've seen that video literally thousands of times, and I still think maybe this time I'll beat him."
Beardsley spoke as part of Regional Health's Make Your Comeback Speaker Series and will speak again at 10 a.m. today at the Hall of Fame Room in the King Center at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City. It is open to the public.
The race remembered Monday was just one of many challenges life would throw at Beardsley.
"As I was finishing that race, I told myself, 'I'll never face anything so difficult as this again.' But I was so wrong," he told the audience.
Beardsley, a Minnesota native, returned home to a dairy farm around Bemidji after retiring from his running career to, as he saw it, milk cows, fish and be with his family. But, instead, he encountered three successive freak accidents.
The power take-off on a tractor mangled his left leg. Sod broke away on a hike while on a hike with his son, leaving him on the shores of Lake Bemidji in need of paramedics. And a truck struck him while running in Fargo, leaving him in a snowbank.
The painful accidents and subsequent surgeries left Beardsley addicted to painkillers, sometimes, he said, taking as many as 90 pills a day to ease his symptoms — giving him a taste in the early 1990s of the opioid epidemic now gripping the nation.
"I was the same as someone in an alleyway shooting up on heroin," said Beardsley, an energetic speaker. "I was a narcotics addict."
He received treatment from a hospital in Fargo but then became addicted to methadone and, after a late-night bus ride to Minneapolis, spent an agonizing week without sleep in a hospital bed and attending therapy sessions, sometimes crawling his way down the hallway. It was on his third try that he succeeded.
"A doctor told me, 'This will be the hardest thing you ever do. It will be hell.' And he was right," Beardsley said to the packed room of nearly 100 people.
Now sober for 22 years, Beardsley spoke somberly, however, of his most recent challenge: the suicide of his son, a victim of PTSD.
A Blackhawk gunner in Iraq, Andy took his own life only hours after talking to his father.
"I didn't have a clue," said Beardsley, who wrote a song on a few days after his son's passing that he ended his talk with.
"After all that happened, this song — believe it or not — brings me joy and gives me hope," he said.
Beardsley is a professional motivational speaker who talks of a never-say-quit attitude and humble roots (he wore knee-high nylon socks, tennis shoes, and a belt to hoist up his father's baggy shorts to his first cross-country practice). He also impressed upon his audience — even the young students from Belle Fourche High School in their purple shirts in the front row — to never forget their own hard work.
"When I stood on the starting line at the Boston Marathon two runners down from Alberto Salazar (then the world record holder) and Bill Rodgers (four-time winner at the Boston Marathon), I wondered, 'Dick, what in the heck are you doing on the same line with these guys?'"
But a voice came to him that he'll never forget.
"Dick, you deserve to be here, you've done the work."
A little over two hours later — and fewer than two seconds behind Salazar — Beardsley would have not only the course and American record but a sense of determination that could carry him through a storied life.
The Front Porch Coalition is a Black Hills-based organization dedicated to assisting individuals who've lost a loved one due to suicide and can be reached at 348-6692.