Thursday, March 1, 2018

V 8 N. 18 Orville Atkins, Canadian Running Legend R.I.P.

Orville Atkins  (1937-2018)
Orville Atkins on left with Wilbur Williams and John Bork
David Bailey, Canada's first sub-four minute miler sent us a note today that his friend, Orville Atkins had passed away.   Would I please put some mention in our blog.  So here goes.

Orville Atkins was raised in the north of Ontario, not far from the taiga and tundra in a town called Timmons.  Not the best place to become a running legend and folk hero.  He eventually came south to study in Toronto and became  part of the pre running boom in the early 1960s as a member of the East York Track Club with fellow legends to be, Bruce Kidd, Bill Crothers, David Bailey and Coach Fred Foot being the most notable.  Orville was for awhile, Canada's best marathoner finishing high at Boston and winning the first Chicago marathon as well as the oldest race on the continent, the Round the Bay in Hamilton, Ontario.

I never met Orville, nor did I ever talk by phone, but we did correspond and trade stories on numerous occasions after this blog got underway.  I cannot remember how we first came in contact.  Orville wrote frequently on the Runners Lounge discussion group on Lets Run and also on a thread for Track and Field News.

In 1964 he and several friends moved to Los Angeles to train with the LA Track Club  and from there went on to watch the Tokyo Olympics.   I learned about this when a few years ago the chief statistician for the IAAF contacted us to see if we would provide him with the heat and lane assignments of all the runners in the 200 meters prelims.  I had no idea where that might be found, but I forwarded his request to Orville.  In no time, Orville came back with the information.  He had his program from the meet, and he had written down all that information as it occurred.  He also mentioned that as he was in the stands it looked like a heavy rain was about to fall and he recommended to the somewhat older lady sitting next to him that perhaps she would be wise to return to the hotel before the rain cut loose.   She replied that she could not.  She was waiting to see the finals of the 5000 meters as her son was running in that race.  She was Bob Schul's mother.

Orville once sent me copies of all of East York TC's workouts.  My computer crashed with that  information, and I was never able to retrieve it.  But in looking over several places on the internet today I began finding clues and traces of his writings and some of those workouts.  Below are a few links if you are willing to explore. 
Orville in the lead pack at Boston 1962

Here are some of the other tracks that Orville has left behind, and I hope that you all find some joy looking through them. 

Keep Running the Good Race, Orville,

George Brose

Orville Atkins views of the sport  This piece by Orville appeared in the blog Run Westchester by Joe Garland.

A few of Orville's commentaries on Lets Run

What Orville's friends are now saying about him on Lets Run 

Runner    This piece by the Canadian Film Board features the East York Track Club and specifically Bruce Kidd.  Orville can be seen only briefly at 5:04 min. in the film about third place on the curb in dark shorts.  The quality and clarity for the age are exceptional, and it can bring back the mystique of running in a group at practice.  The 2 mile race at the end is the least important and the commentary is off the rails not mentioning the lead runner for the first mile, but again you can almost feel the heat and the dry cinders in your shoes and see a race almost sixty years ago in North America surrounded on all sides by spectators intently interested.  Not a smart phone in site.
This is where Orville appears briefly in the film 'Runner'  dark shorts on curb

An old clipping of one of Orville's many wins

John Bork mentioned Orville today on FB
My great friend & marathoner, Orville Atkins , passed away on Sunday 2/25/18 . I was able to be with him here in Camarillo just an hour before his passing. Orville was one time Canadian Marathon Champion with East York Track Club & 5th place in the 1962 Boston Marathon. Winner of the very first Windy City  Marathon. (We've been corrected, in that this was not the first Chicago Marthon.  That was in 1977, won by Dan Cloeter in 2hr 17min. 52 sec.) Orville completed over 40 Marathons. I had the pleasure of coaching Orville to his best times in 1966-1968 after we both left the LA Track Club. In recent years Orville & I had many enjoyable lunches together at Coogies Resturant in Santa Monica!

This morning, David Bailey sent this remembrance.
Hi George,
It is the middle of the night and I cannot sleep thinking about Orville.
So, I got up and wrote something for your blog.
I tried to add it to the comments section but am not certain it will get posted.
So, I thought that I would also send it to you to be certain that it would be.
Thanks so much for the great piece that you did on Orville with such short notice.
All the best,

I have known Orville since the summer of 1961 at my first workout with the East York Track Club.  Back then I was a somewhat overweight 16-year-old trying to fit in.  He was kind and encouraging.  I was sad when he decided to move to Los Angeles to train under Mikeal Igloi a few years later.  Yet, we stayed in touch.  I remember how genuinely pleased and excited he was for me when I ran my first sub-4 mile.   Years later beginning in the mid-1980s, we would get together when he would be in my home town of London, Ontario to visit his sister.  We would pick up as if our running days were yesterday.  My son Scott, who was in high school at the time, commented on our comradery and expressed how he hoped to find this kind of friendship in his life.  If there is one thing that I remember about Orville, it would be his infectious laugh.  It would usually be the result of stories about himself.  These included how he would be training so hard that he would have to go to the washroom at work to take a nap sitting on the toilet.  Another one was the time that Igloi told Orville that he was the only person that he had ever seen with no running talent.  That may be true but he made up for it with heart and extraordinary work habits.  How else do you end up finishing 5th in the Boston Marathon. Thank you for being in my life.  You are well remembered.

David Bailey

Dear John and George:

I was really sorry to hear about Orville's passing.

Although I did not know him on a personal basis, we had corresponded by email and I remember seeing him win that first Chicago Marathon.  I always found him to be a friendly and knowledgeable gentleman.

Good men are hard to find.  It is extra sad when we lose one.

Take care,

Tom Coyne

   You can tell from the comments about Orville Atkins that he was truly a good and decent person.  Also a superior runner even if Igloi said he had no talent.  I suspect he had talent in his unseen muscles and capillaries.     Bill

1 comment:

Dave Elger said...

RIP Orville. Always enjoyed reading his letsrun posts. Just to clarify, Orville won the Windy City Marathon but the first Chicago Marathon in 1977 (then called Mayor Daley) was won by Dan Cloeter in 2 hr 17 min 52 sec.

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