Author of The Essential Sheehan
“Sweat cleanses from the inside. It comes from a place a shower will never reach.” – Dr. George Sheehan.
If you are a recreational runner in this country, you owe a debt of gratitude to George Sheehan. George Sheehan is the William Shakespeare of running. He was out pounding the pavement and spreading the values of running years before the running boom of the 1970’s swept the nation.
What started as a side gig covering the 1968 Mexico Olympics for the NJ based Red Bank Register eventually lead to becoming the medical editor of Runner’s World, a handful of brilliant books, speaking engagements and by in-large made Sheehan the godfather of running in this country. Aside from being an author, he was no slouch on the race course either. His accolades include notching 21 consecutive Boston Marathon finishes and a 4:47 minute mile at age 50 (the over 50 world record at the time).
But Sheehan was far more than a trendsetter, author and running pioneer. You could also call him a few other things; namely:
Father of 12 children
Husband to “The most beautiful woman on the Jersey Shore, Mary Jane Fleming.”
War Hero-having served in the South Pacific and experiencing Kamikaze attacks to his Navy Destroyer in 1944 during WW2
Doctor-served as one of the Jersey Shore’s most highly respected cardiologists with a practice spanning 4 decades
Philosopher-having begun running at a time when the sport had precious few participants, his ideals on running, fitness and wellness were light years ahead of his time. Much of his writing focused on the “why” of running
I was fortunate enough to have a long talk with Andrew Sheehan last week. Andrew recently compiled The Essential Sheehan a collection of writings from Dr. George Sheehan’s collection. This is an absolute must-read for both the hard-core runner and the novice alike. In the book, Dr. Sheehan combines his medical expertise, personal running stories and philosophy to provide some of the most dynamic reading I have ever come across. Andrew was kind enough to share some wonderful insight about his father, a man I have admired for many years.
Andrew shared one story that touched me tremendously. In the early 1960’s, Dr. Sheehan was lacking something in his life. It came to a head when he was reluctantly called out of his Rumson home in order to make a house call in the middle of the night. His frustration hit a boiling point as the good doctor slammed his hand on a table. That day, his running career resumed after a long hiatus since his Manhattan College track team days, nearly 20 years earlier.
George made his own track in the backyard and ran nearly every day. He would eventually don his sneakers and tights and jog through the streets of Monmouth County, where he would draw lots of ridicule and negative attention from bystanders. Andrew even remarked that other kids would make fun of Dr. Sheehan for his aloof hobby of running. His setting later changes to a local high school track and before long, Dr. Sheehan was running his first of 21 consecutive Boston Marathons. In his first Boston campaign in 1964, Sheehan crossed the line in an impressive 3:07. Like many of us, for Sheehan, running as two-fold. He loved the way it made him feel, but he was also an advocate for others to get involved.
Andrew went on to explain to me about his father’s philosophies regarding the importance of play. Certainly in today’s day and age, it seems commonplace, but this commitment to wellness, personal health and fun was an uncommon ideal. He referred to the concept of play as a “self-renewing material.” He mentioned that his father loved to promote the concept of “simplifying your life”, meaning keep life easy, simple and enjoyable.
I asked Andrew a few questions about the inspiration for The Essential Sheehan. He received tremendous support for the book from some notable names in the running scene. Notably David Willey, the editor of Runner’s World magazine who contributed to the book along with former Olympians Alberto Salazar and the great Frank Shorter.
Willey describes Sheehan brilliantly as “The spokesperson for a generation of runners.”
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Andrew himself is an avid runner. He and his family (wife, Abigail and their two sons) live in Western Pennsylvania and he considers running “central to his life” and an activity that “keeps him grounded.” Andrew has completed 18 marathons and currently is in training for the Pittsburgh Marathon, a race that he proudly sits on the board for. Andrew is an award winning Investigative Journalist for CBS’s Pittsburgh affiliate, KDKA-TV and it was so gracious of him to take time and talk about his father with me. His admiration for his father was clearly evident in every proud story and anecdote that he told me.
Be sure to pick up The Essential Sheehan and let us at RunJersey.com know your thoughts on it. You can also celebrate the memory of this running icon in the George Sheehan classic, one of the nation’s top 100 running events. This year’s event will take place in Red Bank on June 13 and 14.