Veteran runner Ed Russell looked out over the crowd that had jammed the Buffalo Ironworks after completing the Freezer 5K last week. More than 350 runners had taken part in the event, even though the weather had done its best not to cooperate via an overnight snowstorm.
Russell saw the turnout as yet another tribute to John Beishline, who died on Dec. 10 at the age of 82.
“Without John,” Russell said, “none of this would be possible.”
Beishline certainly had a long and successful career in business. He was an engineer who was the owner of Beishline Executive Search. Several of his awards for his professional work in that area were on display at his wake in Tonawanda.
Still, he’ll be remembered by many as one of the giants of the Western New York running community. In fact, Beishline had been working behind the scenes for so long that few remembered he was a good runner in his “younger days.” Beishline once finished the Boston Marathon in three hours, 20 minutes.
Sal Teresi, who knew him since 1980, was one of his workout partners way back when.
“We’d all run eight miles a day, five days a week,” he said. “We’d start out nice and slow, talking to each other and everything. By about the fifth mile, we’d have a race. Everybody tried to beat each other. By the time the eight miles were done, we’d be so pooped out from running during the week that we couldn’t run a good race that weekend.”
When Beishline started to slow down, he made a smooth transition into running-related activities. He started working with the late Emery Fisher on timing local races, and eventually took over for Fisher. As the person in charge, he’d usually start the race and then be at the finish — frequently welcoming runners by name through his ever-present bullhorn.
Western New York Finish Line Services worked so many races that active runners knew the script better than Beishline did. Whenever they hear the phrase, “There will be times at one mile and two miles, and there’s water on the course,” they’ll think of Beishline.
“He was at almost every race that I ran, and I’ve been running for eight years,” Mike Beato said. “He always had a kind word for people, was always very encouraging.”
“I recall sitting down with John to have a post-race snack and I asked him what he thought of all the runners that turn out for these races during high winds, heavy rains and blistering snowfalls,” Heather Burger said. “He gave me a smile and simply said where there are runners that needed to be called to the race, he was going to be there to set them off and then bring them in. It was just that simple with John. And he always did, no matter what the conditions.”
Beishline could be the target for a little mischief along the way, especially when he was just getting started in timing races. As runners were finishing, other members of the finish line crew would feed him the names to announce on the megaphone. Every once in a while, “Alberto Salazar” would come sprinting across the line in a small 5K — resulting in laughter among everyone but Beishline.
He stayed in touch with his professional life by serving as the race director for the Engineering Society’s scholarship run for 27 years, and he was the president of USA Track and Field’s Niagara Region for five years (1991-96). Beishline also worked at the World University Games in 1993.
What’s more, he was always generous with his time with others. Whenever someone was interested in starting a race, the call inevitably would go to John — who would immediately suggest a breakfast meeting. There he’d outline by the various pitfalls that can pop up at a first-year event, and how to avoid them.
But John was smart too. Some of Beishline’s friends would always check with those new race officials about who paid for breakfast. When they found out the answer, which was always the same, those friends would say with a giggle, “Well, John won again!”
Beishline’s most visible role, though, was as the race director of the Buffalo Marathon. After taking the job in 2000, the event eventually found a home on the Memorial Day calendar. The key move was the addition of a half-marathon, which helped attract many new runners to the event and thus justified the effort needed to stage a logistically difficult sporting event. Now thousands, from locations near and far, participate in a highlight of the year’s race calendar.
Next year, the Memorial Day weekend also will feature a new 5-kilometer run that will begin shortly before the marathon and half-marathon. It will be permanently dedicated to Beishline, and his wife Joanne will be the 2014 starter.
His contributions made him an easy choice to be part of the first class of the Western New York Running Hall of Fame in 2011. After all, no one ever did more for running in Western New York than Beishline.
“John used to eat, breathe and sleep it — every part of it,” said Tom Donnelly, the Buffalo Marathon’s interim race director. “Whether it was as a race official, a guiding force for fledgling race directors, or starting and timing races, he did it all.”
Will he be missed? Every time there’s a race. Can he be replaced? Never.
Beishline would be happy to know that one of his longtime pet projects, a winter meeting of area race directors, is staging a comeback. He ran such an event for several years.
The 2014 edition of the meeting will be staged on Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus, 1530 Kenmore Ave. in Buffalo. Call John Grandits at 634-5052.