Oh Brother, Why Art Thou
By Bill Donnelly
It seems that so many times after a story of mine appears in the newsletter, I get call after call after call on my telephone chastising me for picking on my slow brother, Tom. All I hear is that I’m mean spirited towards him, and that he really is quite a great guy. Well, I decided it was time to write a piece in praise of my brother’s running ability, specifically, I will tell about the time he won quite a large race back in The Day. Maybe that will get Tom to stop making call after call after call on my telephone chastising me for, well, you get the picture.
Let me start by giving you a bit of background about Tom so you can better understand how running was quite a positive change in Tom’s life. You see, when the young lad was growing up is
, he was quite the bundle of energy. In fact, he was the first child the term ADHD was ever used for, only the letters originally stood for “Another Donnelly Hosting Demons”, and the child care experts in St. Cloud, Minnesota actually invented Ritalin for Tom, but by the time they perfected it, he was too old for it to work. Minnesota
For those who would like to know more of the details of Tom’s troubled youth, there was an excellent book written about him simply called “Trouble for Tommy”, and it does go into detail, with photos, of Tom’s legendary exploits as a youth. Unfortunately, the book is out of print, but I do have copies I can lend to those who are interested. I’m not kidding.
Anyway, one of the problems Tommy suffered from was the inability to stick to any project or activity for any length of time. Few people know this, but when Tom was very young, my folks thought learning a musical instrument might soothe the savage beast that was my brother. He was about seven, and take it from me, hearing a young kid trying to learn the violin is an excruciating experience. To this day, whenever I hear a Siamese cat that’s in heat and being tortured at the same time, I think back to my brother’s violin career.
Fortunately, Tom stuck to the violin for all of about one week. Yet for some reason, he kept carrying the violin in its case to school for the next year. This, of course, would attract the bullies, and many the day I would see Tom running full tilt with a band of toughs in close pursuit, the violin case swinging back and forth in Tom’s hand. This was his first running experience, and years later, once he took up road racing, you knew Tom was serious about a race if he was carrying his violin case with him during the event.
In 1964 we moved from
to St. Cloud , and no, it’s not true we were kicked out because of Tom. It is strange that Buffalo has border check points ever since 1964. Anyway, we lived in Minnesota North Buffalo, and we were in the , so that is where my brother Mike and I went. Tom, on the other hand, decided to follow our sister Liz, once they were of high school age, to Riverside High School district . It was cooler then. Bennett High School
In order to go to a different high school out of your area, it had to offer a subject that you desperately needed in your life, and which was not offered at the designated high school you were supposed to attend. The only thing Bennett offered was Russian. Tom decided he needed to learn to speak Russian.
How’d that go you ask? Next time you see Tom, ask him to say something is Russian to you. But he did enjoy taking First Year Russian all four years he was at Bennett. In that way it was different, for he did stick to it. He just didn’t stick to the studying. He did become close to his Russian teacher, and he still sends a Christmas card to her at the sanitarium she’s at each year.
So when Tom took up running about three years after I did, everyone was thrilled, yet no one thought he would stick with it too long. He started in 1976, and he is still going strong, so that shows you what we knew. And looking at Tom now, you would never guess that he weighed-in at somewhere under
435 pounds. I guess the ten years he was a freshman at might have been the first indication that he could stick with something, unfortunately all the beer-blasts and freshmen mixers put on the pounds. Buffalo State
Well, Tom really got into the running, and it wasn’t long before he was running quite well. He ran his first marathon at Skylon in 1977, and by breaking three hours, he qualified for
, which he did as a Belle Watling in 1978. By 1979, he felt ready for bigger and better things, and I remember he was aiming for the Run for your Life 20K, to be held on Boston September 9, 1979.
I was teaching in a small town outside of
, at the time, but I made it back to Kent, Ohio whenever I could to run with my friends. It just so happened that I was back in town that very weekend, but I had no plans of running that race. In fact, the day before the race, Saturday, I ran Buffalo 20 miles at with plenty of company, and it was my 91st day in a row of running. We used to do crazy things like that back in The Day. I know the details of this because I recently found my running journal from then. I’m so glad I kept a journal. Delaware Park
The evening before the race, Eleanor (of the Belle Watling Beaver Pin Award fame) and I met my friends and Checkers’ members Jim and Sharon Caher at Gables, one of the first bars with an outside café. It was a beautiful night, and we settled in for a night of relaxing and drinking outside. A few friends stopped by and raised a glass or two with us. About Tom stopped by, since we hadn’t seen each other yet.
Well, Tom had big plans for the next day’s race, so he had to be in bed early. He had a big glass of lemonade, and was on his way by . He was dedicated and ready. We stayed on and closed the place at
3 in the morning. Turns out my brother Mike, another running Donnelly who ran a marathon in his day, was also in town and running the race the next day. He didn’t show up at the bar, but he did not take the race quite as seriously as Tom.
I got up about 8 the next morning, after less than five hours to sleep it off. I was still fuzzy as I headed out the door to run at
. I got to the top of the hill by the statue of the hippy and his dog, and people were just lining up for the start of the race, with a good 2000 participants. I remember being in back to watch the start and talking to Fred Gordon, who also was not going to run. He had a bit of an Afro that wilted and lay down in corn-rows when I breathed on him. I was feeling the after effects of too much partying. Delaware Park
When the gun went off, Fred decided to run along behind the crowd for his workout, so I decided to do the same. What follows is exactly what I wrote in my journal. Nothing has been altered or changed to protect the innocent.
I ran the 20K (accurate course) race Run for Your Life, unofficially. Drank with El & the Cahers till 3AM, so when I got up for the race, I was beat. I ran to the park and started in the very back of 2000. Slow start ( mile) but it was a good course, and a cool day. I ran easy & felt good the whole way. Considering everything (
20 miles yesterday) I did well, beat Tom & finished with Mike in about 25th place with a 74:59. Not bad, I was pleased. It was my 92nd day in a row. I feel encouraged about Skylon.
Poor Tom. He had to rethink his whole strategy of training and preparing for races. I suppose I could have rubbed it in over the past 25 years, but any of you who know me would understand that I could never do such a thing. Tease my slow little brother about such a thing. Why I never!
I only mention this little episode in trying to explain Tom’s character for this article. I wanted you to understand something of his background so you could appreciate how far his running has taken him, and how he has used it to change his life.
I only bring up this story of the Run for Your Life Race to help lead up to the whole point of this article. Now what was the point of this article? Hmmm, I forget. Excuse me while I scroll up to the top page to see what my purpose was in writing this piece. Oh yeah, the time he won quite a large race back in The Day.
You see, by 1981, I decided to give up running (which I did for nearly 20 years) so that Tom would be able to come out from under my shadow. I was worried that he would get discouraged and give up on yet another activity. My plan worked to perfection. Tom blossomed as a runner, he could relax, and take some pointers from me as far as pre-race training methods.
Over the next seven or so years, Tom ran quite well, and won many races. He could run a 5K and a 32:30 10K. His biggest win, however, was the 1981 Run for Your Life 20K race, which he won with a personal best sub-70 minute run, beating over 2000 runners. I like to think he was inspired by the humiliation I caused him by spanking him so badly two years before in the same race. I understand that the night before the 1981 race, he was at Gables till quite late, and that wasn’t straight lemonade he was drinking.
I must mention that we have the finish of the 1981 race on home movies, which have been switched over to VHS. It does send tingles down my spine, watching Tom crossing the finish line, raising his arms in the air, and waving the violin case high and proud. Unfortunately, the case’s clasp broke and the violin shattered on Tom’s head. We have the video to prove it.
So maybe now Tom will stop calling me to complain of the shabby treatment he feels I treat him with in some of my articles. After this is printed in the newsletter, I expect to hear the phone ringing off the hook, and Tom will be at the other end thanking me profusely for my kind portrayal of his glory days. Oh yeah, get to me if you want to read “Trouble for Tommy”. It’s a great read.