On July 2, 1999 Ricky Byrdsong, the former coach of the Northwestern University Men’s basketball team, was shot and killed while walking with two of his children a half-block from our home. His murderer was a white supremacist who had randomly decided to drive through our neighborhood. After a weeklong spree of shooting violence in which he killed a Korean-American student and wounded several Orthodox Jews and three black men, the neo-nazi took his own life.
His widow, Sherialyn established The Ricky Brydsong Foundation with the mission to “arrest the growing epidemic of hate in violence in our society by and against our youth.” One of the first events that the foundation sponsored was the Race Against Hate, which was started in 2000.
In 1978 I tore my ACL playing basketball. I had the knee surgically repaired, but it was never the same and I was unable to play basketball at the level that I had before the injury. I decided that if I couldn’t play basketball I would become a competitive runner. I’m not sure why I made that decision, but from 1980 to 1986 I “trained” for five and six mile races. My goal was to finish a race at a pace that was under 6 minutes. In July 1986 I ran in the Corporate Challenge along Lake Michigan and finished the 5K in 18:46. That was a pace of 6:02 and I decided that was close enough. We had a two year old by then and more kids expected.
When I learned that there was going to be a race in Ricky’s memory I decided to enter even though I hadn’t run a race in fourteen years. I didn’t train and was out late the night before drinking with some friends. The race morning was hot and humid and I finished in 23:28 (7:37 pace). I was in agony for the final mile.
But that race spurred me to try running again and the next year I finished 2nd in my age group. Three years later I started training for triathlons and by 2005 my time was down to 21:12.
Last year they added a 10K race and I decided that would be a better race for me. I finished with a time of 49:15 in 2009 and yesterday I ran the course in 48:48 – a 7:52 pace. Fourth in my age group out of 23.
This is my favorite race. I guess because it has created something positive out of something evil.
Ricky Byrdsong’s death was senseless and heartbreaking in its randomness. Events like The Race are small measures by which we as a community can fight back against the hatred.