Remembering Walt Stack
Walt Stack was the founder and first president of DSE.
Blessings on the DSE’s First Man.With inspiration for all who dared
(The grubby jokes were never spared.)Len and Buck and Ruth and Stu
And Sister Marion, they all knew
Walt, with several minor flaws
Unique-a rebel with a cause.
Those who didn’t run or soar
With Walt beside the Bay missed more
Than just a legend in our time;
But also lost the chance to climb
With winged feet the heights of charm
With Walt, whose character so warm
Is with us still throughout the land,
On mountain trail, along the sand.
- Walt on You Tube
- Walt and His Challenge to Gail
- Walt and the Japanese Doctor
- Pre-race Walt joke
- Walt and Lime Rock
Walt on You Tube
Walt Stack featured in a commercial by Nike:
Walt and His Challenge to Gail
In the late 1970’s or early 80’s, Sports Illustrated sent a writer to do a story on Walt. the writer followed him around for a week, talking to friends and getting to know his habits and routine. when the article came out, Walt hated it. But there was a great line that I remember from that article which had to do with one of Walt’s physical traits, his steady gait. It seems almost regardless of the distance, Walt ran 8.5 minute miles. So the SI writer wrote: “Walt Stack’s pace is so steady, if he fell out of an airplane he probably would fall at the speed of 8.5 minutes per mile.”
At the DSE races, Walt was a frequent master of ceremonies and presenter of ribbons to the top finishers and you never know quite what to expect. At one of the Sunday races there was a runner named Gail Gustufson who had been training for an important marathon and was doing quite well. She mentioned that she intended to finish in a time that everyone who know her thought was unrealistic.
Well, Walt heard about the prediction and after handing out ribbons one morning, he said, “I hear Gail’s going to break a record in the marathon next week. Come now Gail, if you run that fast, I’ll kiss your ass at the Ferry Building at high noon and give you an hour to draw a crowd!” Laughter broke out and the gauntlet had been thrown.
Now to everyone’s surprise Gail ran the race in the time she had predicted. So the next week when Walt went up to present ribbons, people were calling out that Gail would be at the Ferry Building at noon, and Walt was expected to be there.
As noon rolled around a huge crowd of runners gathered along with some curious tourists and other spectators. Of course we were wondering what would happen and how would Walt handle it?
What only a few people knew, was that Gail and a friend had rented a jackass costume and ere off in a hiding place. As Walt walked up, the “animal” appeared, turned, and directed its hindquarters toward Walt. In the typical Walt Stack style, he walked over an planted a big kiss on its behind. Then Gail and the friend stepped out of the costume to roaring laughter and shouts. God only knows what would have happened if she had actually dropped her shorts! Anyway, there was one heck of a party afterwards.
Walt and the Japanese Doctor
Walt Stack and I did the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii. I believe the year was 1982. Walter had a hell of a good time, but during the bike ride which was the final event, he was several hours past the cutoff. That didn’t bother Walter, because he had a contingent riding merrily along with him, keeping him supplied with beer. The next day at the awards dinner another older participant, a medical doctor from Japan, came to our table to inquire as to how Walter had fared. Walt replied “Oh, I was okay once I got out of the hospital.” The puzzled doctor asked, “Why were you hospitalized, Mister Stack?” to which Walt replied, “To get that damned bicycle out of my ass.” Typical Walt Stack. The good doctor walked away, still puzzling over it.
Pre-race Walt joke
Walt’s definition of a smart ass–“Someone who can sit on an ice cream cone and tell you the flavor.”
Walt and Lime Rock
My relationship with Walt Stack could better be described in a book than in a few paragraphs; but he was definitely one of a kind. The very mention of his name reminds me of two words, “Lime Rock.” The DSEers who often ran near me as I passed Walt going the other way may have been puzzled why he always yelled “Lime Rock is in the other direction!”
It began back when Walt co-sponsored me into the Dolphin Swimming Club in 1970 so that I could qualify to swim the Golden Gate. On my first attempt, I got ever so close to the finish line at Lime Rock on the Marin shore but the tide had other ideas and I got washed away. Actually I think I swam perfectly-Lime Rock is what got swept out to sea. Needless to say, there was much celebrating the following year when I hit that slimy rock right on the bull’s eye. I even brought back some moss from its surface for proof and today it still stands encased in plastic on my trophy shelf.
I also reflect on the great trips on the uses we chartered for the Avenue of the Giants Marathon. Walt really was the life of the party. His jokes and stories were often a bit off color but he never offended people who were sensitive if he knew there world be a problem. He got quite wild at times but always a real gentleman when it was appropriate.
Thank you Walt for all you gave to the running community, and for all you gave me as the first blind runner in our club. Thanks to Walt, I have always felt welcome.
P.S. Walt Stack single handedly set in motion a fund-raiser to send me to my first Boston Marathon in 1971.
A saint he wasn’t, but he stood by his friends.
Others may choose to describe Walt’s more blatant antics so it is left to them to discuss their observations of his barracks language, political affiliations, and eccentricities.
However, for me, there was so much more to the man than the obvious. In spite of his transgressions, and there were many, he was both proud and ashamed. The DSE may have been his unconscious and convoluted way of fulfilling atonement and compassion. Behind his overt personality and extremes, he had that special stamp of manliness on which he stood up for his beliefs and gave accountability for a life of adventure and misadventure.
Walt and I came from worlds apart. It was as if we had each flown in as space aliens from different planets for our Sunday DSE runs. Somehow we became dear friends in spite of our mutual dislike of the other’s convictions and affiliations.
A saint he wasn’t but he stood by his friends, labored honestly in the field of human suffering, and took his responsibilities seriously. Could anyone have asked more of him? I doubt it. I think of him daily and wonder what he could say about each of us if he were writing this?
Walt-Justice of the Peace
We have many fond memories of Walt but one that we won’t forget is when he helped to officiate at out wedding in 1976. We had heard him say many times that he was licensed to marry people and had done so often. So when planning out wedding we asked a colleague of ours and Walt to conduct the ceremony jointly.
We had a brief rehearsal but come the morning of the wedding, as we were going over everything one last time, we realized that Walt was much more nervous than we were. On inquiring why, we discovered that in fact he had done this only once before and wasn’t at all sure about getting it right. By now and with guests already assembled, it was too late to make any changes and so throughout the ceremony we held our breath and crossed out fingers hoping that he wouldn’t get lost, wouldn’t come out with one of his pithy phrases or suddenly digress into one of his infamous stories, a potential disaster since our out-of-town relatives had never met of experienced anyone like him before.
But all went smoothly; a few pauses were anxious moments for us but he restrained himself and got through them successfully without launching into some raunchy comment and everyone present had a good time. Unlike the first wedding he conducted, this one had lasted through many years-so clearly he did good work! Later he went on to conduct marriages for a number of other runners and was pleased and proud that he was a part of so many happy occasions.
Ya just gotta love that guy
I have many fond memories of Walt. I was never formally introduced to him but know him through the DSE races. He spit out old salty brine like a retired drill sergeant and when he was at a loss for appropriate words he was inappropriate. I remember time and time again at the end of our races during the award ceremonies how he always invited the winning females to a congratulatory kiss from the grand Pooh-Bah himself, and the mixed reactions he received. Ya just gotta love that guy. It was sad in the end just like the tough guy he was his body kept ticking but his mind was gone, and then so was he. I remember all the friends who came to his wake/gathering/funeral. They had so much to say. Someone suggested that I speak too. I was embarrassed. I didn’t know him well enough. And I still think what would I say?
Walt had the spark
Walt was a lovable and industrious man, who even at the age of 81 had enough energy that belied his years. The story goes that he and a couple of other fellows met at a house in ’66 and drafted the plans for the club; Walt being a member of the Dolphin Swimming Club. It is sort of confusing that S.F.’s first running club came as an “offshoot” of 3 swimming and boating clubs, but “whatya gonna do?”
Walt stayed president for about 15-20 years, and then passed on the helm. But he continued to attend most of the races, and still ran, and most important deply cared about the club.
We have probably had about 10,000 runners pass “thru our doors”, and a spark for most of them was probably Walt Stack. Even at the age range of 70-80, he did more marathons and 50 milers than anyone I know. He beat me in 2 marathons, passing me in the last 3 miles both times. What energy! One time we did a 50 miler on a Saturday and then ran a marathon the following Sunday. I passed him at about the 15 mile mark and he shouted, “You’re an animal Stratta!” at which I shouted back, “What do you claim to be-Human?!” Walt laughed at that one, as we had always laughed at his many crude jokes.
Walt will forever have it, and we are his children. It will certainly be a beautiful memorial to a great man. There will never be another Walt.