A friend of mine from long ago (and still today) sent me the obituary of a fellow runner from a nearby town. His name was Dave Bashaw.
Dave was a talented and determined runner from Geneva High School. I competed with him for a couple years and never won a single race against him. Following high school, he attended a local community college and then ran cross country for North Central College, one of the premiere running schools in the United States.
While at North Central his training regimen became legendary. Reportedly he ran several 250-mile weeks. That’s right: Dave ran 26 or so miles a day. His efforts paid off because he became an All-American in cross country.
I know how hard that is to achieve. My personal best individual place was probably 62nd my senior year in college. As fifth man for a team that placed second in the nation behind North Central College, I was happy to achieve that milestone in a journeyman runner’s career.
But Dave finished in the Top 25 in the country. His stride was unique as his legs weren’t all that long. But he could motor.
I liked Dave Bashaw and ran with him some in summer track programs as well. The fact of the matter is that he was always up for a run. If you ran with Dave, you learned to listen. Because that dude could talk. His conversation style was an enthusiastic ramble of fast words and thoughts rolling over one another.
We became friends of a sort outside of our running sphere. In the old days of competitive athletics, it wasn’t that common to buddy up with guys from other schools. But by the mid-1970s, and thanks to a local track club run by my late coach Trent Richards, there were friendships that bridged school associations. Two of the more famous guys that trained together in that period were Greg Birk and Tom Burridge, one from St. Charles and one from Batavia. They were so fast and strong I only ran with them a few times. I lacked the confidence to do otherwise.
But I wound up running quite a bit with John Rath of a local town called Burlington as we both ran summer track when I was coaching. Once in a while Dave Bashaw would show up.
But by the time I was a senior in high school it became evident that Dave had a mental illness. He appeared asking for me at my high school while carrying a loaf of Wonder Bread. He told me that he’d just been down at the Fox River bridge trying to feed the foxes. Those were bronze foxes, statues bolted to the bridge abutments.
Through college I’d bump into him now and then and sometimes he’d seem well enough, but at other times his affect was distracted and difficult to comprehend.
I felt empathy for Dave as it was clear that his mental illness was inherent to his brain chemistry. He received treatments I’m sure, but I never heard much about them.
Dave was not the only runner that I knew with degrees of mental illness. There were quite a few in fact. The man over my left shoulder in the track photo above was a major player in the running community for years. But his own version of mental illness caused his ultimate withdrawal from those roles.
To some degree, it is my opinon that we all have some sort of mental illness. With lifelong challenges with anxiety and some form of artistic ADD, I am not immune.
Yet for Dave, it became a major impediment to societal function. Sometimes we’d meet up and have a conversation about events past and present. His focus was always so real and earnest that I cared not if everything he said was connected or made sense.
He gained major weight over time because he loved pizza. He told me that fact every time we met! “I love pizza too much,” he’d say, and laugh, and pat his prodigious belly. I think it was his way of “apologizing” to another runner for getting out of shape.
Dave Bashaw was a sweet soul and a great human being. He passed away from Covid-19 in an assisted living facility. I hope there’s a heaven where Dave can run around in peace, freed from the constrictions of this world and its many expectations.
And I hope there’s a helluvalotta pizza in that heaven.