Live Like Jack
In the late 1970’s, running events were springing up all over San Diego and it seemed like every weekend I was at a local 10K at Mission Bay, in Coronado, or in Balboa Park chasing this really fast guy with a cool mustache who always wore a red bandana. I didn’t know it at the time, but both Jack Wilson and I had one major goal in life and that was to break the magic 40 minute mark for 10K. He was always about 30 seconds ahead of me and after a full year of chasing both Jack and the 40 minute barrier, one day we both achieved our dream. He went about 39:40 and I was 39:52. I remember being next to Jack inside the finish chute with both of our hands on our knees and our sweat dripping onto the sidewalk. As we both attempted to catch our breath, I introduced myself.
“Man, great job,” I said as we reached out and shook hands for the first time. “I’ve been chasing you forever and today we both finally got under 40 minutes. How awesome was that?”
Jack’s smile could light up any room he was ever in and you could identify his distinctive gravelly voice from across the street. I ran a PE program at a place called The Children’s School at the time and Jack, who was former military, had become a pilot for the now defunct PSA Airlines. He loved the Grateful Dead so much that when he would finish flying into a city, he’d change into a Grateful Dead shirt and go to a Dead concert to party with his friends. In the winter he’d cross country ski at least 100 days up in Truckee, California and in the summer he would do the Death Ride, Tour of Colorado, Tour of Wyoming and any other gnarly, long and tough event he could get his hands on.
I finished Ironman for the first time on Oahu in 1980 and when I returned home and told Jack about the experience he came over to watch me race in Kona in 1981 and then became an Ironmanaholic just like the rest of us. We raced a ton together at events like the San Felipe Triathlon, Avenue of the Giants Marathon, the Catalina Marathon, the Ironman World Championship, and, my favorite all-time event, the Tecate to Ensenada Running Relay.
The Tecate to Ensenada Running Relay consisted of 300 five person teams that took on a 75 mile relay race in Mexico with no rules and no blocked off roads. The overall winner received a piece of wood with three Tecate beer bottles glued on top. It was what you might call a no frills event. Chaos was the name of the game. Each member of the team was supposed to run five miles and then tag off to your next runner until you covered the 75 miles. But the running became just a small part of the experience. What we enjoyed way more was loading our van with squirt guns and Foamy shaving cream and trying to find a runner on the course whose team had left them there all by themselves. We would swing up next to the unsuspecting runner, open the side door of the van and coat them from head-to-toe with Foamy. Driving ahead and waiting until that runner came over the top of the next hill looking like the Abominable Snowman was worth the price of admission.
Halfway through the race it was Jack’s turn to run, but we couldn’t find the guy. The next thing you know we see Jack out in a field next the road. He had paid a local farmer a few dollars to borrow his horse and he galloped by us with a huge smile on his face, screaming at the top of his lungs.
That was Jack in a nutshell. Living life to its absolute fullest every single day.
Besides all of our road trips and races, my favorite times were our weekend rides out in Pine Valley, California, which is about an hour east of San Diego. The roads are empty, there are three total Stop signs, no traffic, not one stoplight, you’re up at 4,000 feet and can climb to 6,000. It’s God’s Country and so quiet you can hear a pin drop. Jack and I rode out there together with our buddy Larry “The Gov” White since the mid 1980’s and I can’t even imagine how many miles we rode or how many laughs we had during those rides.
I remember one time debating the best food for a long ride and we spent a good hour extolling the virtues of the Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tart. Being in a foil pouch made them the perfect food to put in your bike jersey pocket because it could toast while you rode. The big question was why not frost both sides of the Pop Tart as well as the crust?
When you are in the saddle for hours at a time these are questions that must be answered.
The reason I am writing about my friend Jack is that he passed away August 14th at the age of 86.
We were riding in Pine Valley four years ago and for some reason there were these huge number signs posted along Old Highway 80. One sign said 82 on it so Larry and I stopped to take a photo of a smiling, flexing living legend who just happened to be 82. It’s hard to feel sad when someone you love and adore who lived the absolute perfect life passes away at 86. Who wouldn’t sign up for that?
During my days at Competitor Magazine and Competitor Radio I would frequently tell Jack that I wanted to tell his story because people would be motivated to follow his lead. They would realize that age is no more than a silly number and, through his example, see how much riding, running, swimming, skiing and laughing they can get in every day.
Jack would always turn me down and tell me to write about people who were way more deserving than he was. The truth is there is no one who is more deserving, my friend. Our rides up in Pine Valley will not be the same without you. And every single morning when I get up at 5 a.m. with a smile on my face and attack the day, I will have one thought and one thought only:
Live Like Jack.
Featured Photo at top: Kona Pier, circa early-1980s: from the left, Jack Wilson, Guy DeLuca, yours truly, Dave Scarborough, Pete Pettigrew, aka the real Viper from Top Gun.