Local attorney Rich John is, in a strange sort of way, my own Rudy Giuliani. If I need to make up a story, Rich will be there for me.
In Rich’s case, the stories are not made up. Our friendship goes back nearly 40 years (and will hopefully endure the Giuliani reference), and Rich and his family have given me a lot to write about over the years.
A few short weeks after I took over this column in 1992, a story was swirling around about the effort being undertaken to save the Cornell men’s gymnastics team from being dissolved, and Rich was the perfect man to interview for that story. He had, a decade earlier, competed for the Big Red gymnastics team and he brought a lot of passion and knowledge to the issue.
In Oct. 2007, Rich was coming off knee surgery and he looked forward to running the Chicago Marathon. The event made national news that year, as the temperature soared to nearly 90 degrees, the humidity was oppressive, a runner died, dozens more were taken to hospitals in ambulances and the organizers pulled the plug in the middle of the race. “I’ll never forget that,” Rich told me when we spoke on Sunday. “They ran out of water, they ran out of ambulances so they stopped the race. I had already gone past the cutoff point, and I finished right around the 5 hour mark.” His wife, Vicki, was waiting at the finish line with a cold beer, and it was among the best beers Rich had ever tasted.
Since then, Vicki has also completed a marathon (in 2016) and their son, Nick, has made a name for himself as a pole vaulter at Ithaca High and at R.I.T., and I am grateful to them for providing me with even more material. And, knowing I still have bills to pay, Rich decided to run the New York City Marathon last weekend so I could write this story. What a good friend…
All joking aside, the marathon was John’s fourth, and he told me, post-race, “I just turned 60, and I was looking for a good challenge.” He added, “I have tried to get into the NYC Marathon for a few years, and I finally did.”
In Rich’s words, “The weather was perfect – sunny and in the 50’s,” and when asked if he had set a goal for himself, he offered, “I was hoping to run it in 4 hours, and I knew that was pretty ambitious. I finished in 4:18, and I am happy with that.”
Rich said “When I do marathons, I always seem to stay on pace for the first 20 miles, but that finish kills me.” He laughed when I said I hoped that if we were to have a conversation about “The Wall” that we could keep it civil, and he said that we could. In distance running, that proverbial 20-mile wall is, in Rich’s words, “Something very real.”
Rich’s legs (and spirits) felt a bit lighter when he saw Vicki and their daughters, Mary and Julia,holding signs and cheering him on and he knows that if Nick wasn’t in the thick of his own studies and fall track season he would have been there too.
I asked Rich what it felt like to run 26.2 miles having just rounded third base (the average American lives 80 years, so at age 20, we have hit a single, 40 is a double and 60 is a triple) and he laughed and said, “Well, given it’s the day of the race, I will say ‘I’ll never run again!’ Seriously, I’ll probably do some half-marathons, and Vicki and I plan to do some hiking.”
When he trades his running shoes for street shoes, Rich still practices law, teaches at Cornell, serves on the Tompkins County Legislature and is involved with winemaking at Ports of New York. He also puts some time and energy into a business start-up in Florida, and he is at peace with the fact that he did not win the New York City Marathon. I asked him at what point in the race he saw that he would not catch the winner, and he grinned and said, “About 50 yards into the race.