Dick Sullivan never thought of himself as a Hall of Fame runner.
“I was always good in my age-group, but I was never that good,” he said.
He needs to start thinking about it now.
The longtime participant in the sport is part of the Class of 2014 of the Western New York Running Hall of Fame. He’s in good company, joining the late Mike Diggins, Jackie Murzynowski Kralisz, the late Henry Sypniewski, and Mary Wittenberg in receiving the biggest honor in local running.
Sullivan took an unlikely path toward Hall of Fame status. When he was growing up, he did his exercising on water. Sullivan was part of a crew team in high school that won a national championship under the West Side Rowing Club banner. Then he turned 21.
“I thought that was it for athletic competition,” he said with a chuckle.
Fast forward almost 20 years to 1969. The then-40-year-old Sullivan had given up smoking and noticed a side effect.
“I started to get fat,” he said. “I lived near Delaware Park. I thought, I’ll start exercising. I starting walking and running around the meadow. Before long I could run all the way around the meadow.”
Sullivan found some friends who also found running enjoyable, and they all decided to enter the Turkey Trot that fall.
“You had to join the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) to run it then. You couldn’t run without it,” he said. “There were about 10 of us who were 40 years old. Carl Roesch put us in the back of the line because we were in our 40s. We could beat everybody in their 30s, because nobody was in their 30s.”
After that first race, Sullivan liked it enough to keep at it. And at it. He’s done more than 1,500 races over the years, including 43 more Turkey Trots and 82 marathons (31 in Boston). His best marathon was 2 hours, 54 minutes and 9 seconds at Presque Isle near Erie. Sullivan missed breaking three hours by 30 seconds in Boston one time, but calls it the best race of his life.
“I keep records. If you want, I can tell you how far I ran on a specific day in 1970,” the veteran said.
Along the way, he became a leader in opening the sport of road racing in Western New York to all ages. These days, Sullivan still takes part in races when he can.
He’s in a familiar spot as leading his age-group in the News’ Runner of the Year series. Sullivan has seven such awards in his house. He does admit there isn’t much competition in the 85-89 bracket.
“I think I’ll keep going. I may get it this year,” he said. “The other guys are either dead or can’t walk.”
The other inductees are no less distinguished:
• Diggins was an all-conference runner at Mississippi State and then moved on to coaching at area Catholic high schools. He filled that role for more than 40 years. His St. Joe’s teams won 13 straight cross-country titles.
• Kralisz was an All-American in track and cross country at Murray State. She’s a two-time winner of the News’ Runner of the Year trophy, and won eight Corporate Challenges. Kralisz now coaches at Frontier High School.
• Sypniewski started running at age 70 after retiring, and set several American age-group records. In October 2011, he broke the 5-kilometer record for 93-year-olds by more than 13 minutes. Sypniewski is credited with raising recognition levels for runners who have passed age 65.
• Wittenberg, of South Buffalo and West Seneca, went to Canisius College and took up running in her senior year in college. She won the 1987 Marine Corps Marathon and once finished 16th in the Chicago Marathon with a time of 2:46.
She is best known now as the head of New York Road Runners, which puts on many events a year, including the New York City Marathon. She is one of the top female sports administrators in the country.
• Buffalo Marathon, Half Marathon & 5K, Convention Center in Buffalo, 6:45 & 7 a.m. today.
• Springville Stampede, 5K, 290 North Buffalo St. in Springville, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, 592-3200.
• The Gay 5K, 64 W. Chippewa St. in Buffalo, 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
• Alden’s 5K for Scholarships, Alden Central High School, 6:30 p.m. Friday, (585) 413-0173.
• Brian Dugan Memorial Scholarship 5K, Lincoln Arena, Town of Tonawanda, 6:30 p.m. Friday.
• Bully Free 5K, 71 Lorraine Ave., Buffalo, 6:30 p.m. Friday, 816-4809.
• Williamsville East 5K, Williamsville East High School, East Amherst, 7 p.m. Friday, 626-8426.
• Lancaster Middle School Jr. SADD 5K, Como Lake Park in Lancaster, 8:30 a.m. Saturday, 685-8077.
• Salmon Run, 5K, Clark’s Park in Wilson, 5 p.m. Saturday, 751-6120.
• Grinder Trail Run, 3.5 miles, Sprague Brook Park in Glenwood, 10 a.m. on June 1.