February 4th, 2008 - Whitey Sheridan, who died on the weekend, is being mourned by the local running community as Hamilton’s most beloved, enduring and iconic figure. At 92, he had probably crammed more running miles into his life than any human being after he caught the running bug watching the Commonwealth Games from a telephone pole in 1930.
He became a permanent fixture the Around the Bay Race for more than 50 years and was the best known Canadian in Berwick, Pa., where he competed in a nine-mile race called the “Run for the Diamonds” on American Thanksgiving since the 1930s. As a member of the Hamilton Olympic Club (HOC) for almost about 70 years, he also mentored a number of young runners including world class competitors like Gordon Dickson of Hamilton and Cecilia Carter-Smith. A true amateur, he crammed in his races and running-related activities while working shifts at Stelco and raising four boys and five daughters with his wife of more than 60 years, Eileen.
“He was the king of the road,” said Carter-Smith, who met Sheridan at a track meet a McMaster University almost 50 years ago. “He ran the marathon of life and his life was a marathon. He was an exceptional human being,” she added. She said Sheridan and his wife, Eileen, had an “open-door policy” at their Waterdown bungalow where they welcomed young athletes like herself.
Each spring, after the Waterdown 15-kilometre race which Sheridan organized, they’d invite all the competitors to the house for refreshments. Runners inevitably wandered into the basement where Sheridan had a huge trove of running artifacts known as the Runners Roost.
Ed Whitlock, 72, of Georgetown, described the basement museum as an “Aladdin’s cave of running memorabilia.” The trove included old posters, scrap books, medals and trophies. Whitlock, the first septuagenarian to run a marathon under three hours, remembered Sheridan as a tough competitor who expected others to work as hard as he did. And if you were associated with him, he expected you to run. He didn’t put too much pressure on his daughters take up the sport. But their husbands and his sons were expected to follow the old man, who kept on running until he was almost 85 years old.
“He was sort of outspoken, a crusty old character. He wasn’t a polished type of person. But he meant well,” recalled Gord Dickson, who met Sheridan at the Toronto airport in 1956. Dickson had arrived with a track team from Alberta and Sheridan drove them to Hamilton for Canadian Olympic trials. They became close friends and travelled extensively together as Dickson became a kind of surrogate son at the Runners Roost. Dickson developed into one of Canada’s top marathon runners and went on to represent Canada at the Olympics, something Sheridan never achieved during seven decades of running.
But he came close when he finished third at the 1948 Olympic trials in Montreal. He was leading the pack coming into the stadium where the race ended on a running track. He might have been confused about the number of laps he was supposed to run or just too tired to put on a finishing kick. But two other runners suddenly appeared in the stadium and sprinted past him to the finish line. Only the first two got Olympic berths.
He also had a lot of top finishes, but never won the diamond ring at the “Run for the Diamonds,” in Berwick, Pa. But he won the hearts of the small community which welcomed him back each year like an international celebrity. Because of the goodwill he spread across the border, a number of Berwick runners have been coming here to run the “Around the Bay.”
To put Sheridan running achievements in perspective, Dickson said, you have to consider that he spent 40 years in the steel mills and raised a huge family while trying to train for races. “I wouldn’t have won many races either, if I had to do that,” he said. Dickson last saw Sheridan about six months ago at the Regina Gardens nursing home on Hamilton Mountain where he had been living with Eileen, for several years. They were still living in the home when he passed away on Saturday.
Article reprinted courtesy Paul Legall
The Hamilton Spectator
Ed Whitlock writes….
We said goodbye today to one of the great running enthusiasts. His scrapbooks of running events covered decades and the basement at his home ” The Runners Roost” in Waterdown was an Aladdin’s cave of running memorabilia. He was a fierce competitor who was hard on himself and others when they showed any shortcomings. He could generally come up with something to needle someone about even if you ran well.
After attending the Berwick PA “Run for the diamonds” then known as the “Berwick Marathon” in the 30′s he made it a regular annual pilgrimage to the race coming close to winning but never achieving that goal, I am sure he berated himself for that. He cemented the long relationship with that race and a significant Canadian participation out of proportion with its distance from Canada and its awkward date for us of American Thanksgiving day. The ties of the race with Hamilton are particularly strong. The welcome by the people there keep us coming each year in spite of the hill on the course for us non hill runners and the problematic weather.
Whitey was a regular attendee of major events such as the Olympics etc, driving his minders to distraction as they tried to keep track of him. The tales of him getting separated and lost are legendary, somehow it was always them that were confused not him. If one was associated with Whitey one was expected to run. Even though the daughters got out of it somehow their husbands were not exempt. He was the race organizer for Whitey’s 15k, a race for runners. It is a shame that a race with lower entry fees than any other road race did not attract more participants although it would then have outgrown the after race party at the Runner’s Roost with the best food and a multitude of prizes.
Whitey worked for Stelco as an open hearth furnace operator, the heat probably kept his weight down in the days before the ubiquitous bottled water, of course there was none in the races in those days either, but that would have been an excuse that would give one no escape from his needling.
All the best Whitey, you won’t be soon forgotten!
Whitey Sheridan – A Running Life
(reprinted from Ontario Masters Newsletters #21 January 1987 and #22 June 1987)
The following autobiographical article covers the highlights of the running career to date of one of Canada’s foremost distance competitors. The account is in Whitey’s own words, unedited. Who am I to correct a legend? – Mike Freeman – Newsletter Editor
Age: 71 in early New Year
Occupation – retired since Feb. 1976 – worked forty years at Steel Company of Canada, Hamilton Works, Burlington Street East, in the basic iron division. Blast furnace, very gaseous, and not too clean. I got involved in distance running as a young chap of thirteen in Waterdown, as the May 24th celebration out here always had a five mile race along with other sports. I finished the race but a combination of sausages for lunch and somebody giving me lemon on the course almost did me in. Depression days and what else to do but make our own fun and games, and running was a cheap sport with a pair of tennis shoes and shorts.
I joined the Hamilton Olympic Club in 1931, and hitch-hiked into Civic Stadium (now Ivor Wynne) where they had a cinder track, probably one of the best around because of the Empire Games in 1930 and a good caretaker at the time. The Olympic Club conducted twilight meets every Wednesday evening with a variety of distances. I also watched the Empire Games one day or so from a telephone pole located near the fence around the stadium, and saw my idol Phil Edwards, a British Guianian, but a member of H.O.C., get beaten in his specialty, the 880 yards.
In high school I ran the mile and the half, and also fooled around with other events to try and be champion in the division. The mile was the longest event with no (high school) cross country in those days either. Of course at that time the mile was open to all ages. I competed in the sectionals in St. Catherines winning as I remember the 880 and one mile runs there for four years in 1932 to 1935. I placed 4th, 3rd, 2nd, and first in the final Ontario Schoolboy Championships at Varsity Stadium, winning in 1935 by a nose in a stretch drive against Bob Mitchell of Toronto. I also placed third at Cornwall in the Canadian Schoolboy mile, and 4th in 1935. I was also a disappointed fourth in a qualifying mile for a schoolboy trip to Australia by a twelve member team which included Mitchell of Toronto in the mile – such was my luck.
In 1935 I also competed in a National Cross Country in Newark, New Jersey, courtesy of an interested post master who was also a night operator for Bell, and travelled by day coach to the big city. 350 started the race. I did get up to fourth place, but finished seventh some 20+ seconds behind the leader from Syracuse. From this running, and other successes, I was offered a chance to go to Seton Hall, then one of the track and field names in the east, but my dad took sick for months on end, and I was fortunate to obtain work at Stelco in October, 1935. My dad passed away in February, 1936. Prior to that I had about the only coach in my career, a former sprinter named Billy White, a kindly gentleman who coached a buddy and me in the mile. Many indoor workouts on the flat cement floor in the James Street Armouries where the 91st Highlanders held their indoor meet. I ran 2:05 for 880 and in the high 4:30’s for the mile, but always seemed to come up against some better American at the meet. My friend and I at that time trained about five days a week, as in the Hamilton area there were a number of 2½ to 3 mile races during the year. Our club coach finally gave up on us as he did not like road runners, but we did manage to win or place second in many of these races with times of 13:01-13:02 for a long 2 ½ mile and 15:12-15:13 for a three mile jaunt. At 16 years of age I ran 16 minutes in the International Relay (10 x 3 miles), now the 5 x 3 miles Silver Relay in High Park. I ran in a number of these relays every fall.
I hitch-hiked to races all over the country, ran and jumped in Fergus, also walked a three mile handicap there and in Orillia, placing third. I received a hair cut for one prize – but the barber was not open on Saturday afternoons. Later on my distances lengthened, and in Guelph I was fortunate to win the 5 mile, the 10 mile cross country, and the 15 mile over a few years, taking home silver flatware, mantel clocks, push lawnmowers, and other useful articles, which proclaimed Guelph Thanksgiving Day races as having the best prizes in Canada. I also competed in the Around the Bay Race in Hamilton for many years, scoring three seconds and a variety of other placings. Last run here was in the early 70’s when I ran 2:13 for the 19+ miles with a pit stop on Maple Avenue.
I also ran the Boston Marathon in 1939 and 1949 but hit the wall; great up to 22-23 miles. In fact I believe Clarence De Mar just beat me the earlier year, and in 1949 I was on target for a 2:36-2:38 run but fate fell me again. In 1952 I placed 4th, third Canadian in the marathon Olympic Trials for Helsinki in Marieville to St. Hyacinthe, Quebec in 2:52, with the winner Paul Collins of Nova Scotia in 2:46+, New Yorker Ed Romagnoli 2nd, Gereard Cote 3rd, having passed me on one of the 17 laps of the town square at the end of the run in from Marieville. The Hamilton Olympic Club had seven or eight runners in the race and every one finished. One fellow remarked during the 17 laps that he would only run until dark if the lap counters got mixed up in their counts, but thankfully all went well although some of our wives also acted as counters so we were doubly sure! Up until that time the Canadian Olympic Society had taken three or sometimes more competitors on the marathon team, but alas only Paul Collins made the trip to Helsinki. I always had it in my mindk to visit that city, and in 1983 my wife and I, along with some of Hamilton’s former athletes and officials went, to see the first World Track and Field Championships there. A great spectacle with Paavo Nurmi’s statue sitting out front. From those 1952 Games my old buddy Harold Colby brought back Nurmi’s autograph for me.
In October, 1954 (at 38) along with two teammates from Hamilton Olympic Club, we travelled to Detroit, and won the Junior team champs (not having won a Senior division at that distance according to the AAU rules) in a marathon. A very small field, and I placed fourth overall, beat out by Aldo Scandurra for third. Aldo was a New Yorker who later was a team manager for the Pan Ams and other U.S. international team. H.O.C. team took 1-2-4. Nerves played a part in some of my races and preparations. In 1954 I was sure I could get on the Canadian team for the Vancouver British Empire Games. The trial was to be held on a Saturday afternoon over the local Hamilton course from Civic Stadium and out east. But Friday morning I woke up hardly able to get up for my work at Stelco. I was weak, tired, and worn out. In my dreams I had run the whole trial, and of course on Saturday I was out at nine miles. To top it all they picked six marathoners (home team rules), and some only ran fifteen miles, and some ran very slow times in the 90 degree heat.
I started in the Masters, coming to races in Toronto in the early 70’s when they conducted races in the Eglinton area, before the growth of road racing. I enjoyed the gang over the years, and appreciated the many great workers in the group. My big love was cross country, and over the years I performed very well in these events in many places.
When I married my wife some 46 plus years ago, she had not witnessed a road race, and very few track meets, but she soon joined the trend. When the family came along (four boys and five girls), meets and road races were a chance to go camping, and our travels stretched over many provinces and states that we might never otherwise have visited.
I also did a little coaching and looked after the distance section for Hamilton Olympic Club for many years until the mid 70’s. A misunderstanding led me to join the Hamilton Athletic Club, a club made up of all runners, striving in races but low key in club terms; just a newsletter once a month, a couple of races a year, and pot luck meals at social runs.
When I came back with another medal or trophy, my wife’s first remark is always, not another one. But truthfully our whole life has revolved around running, running pals, and friends we’ve made in numerous places over the years, with whom I still correspond. For many races over the years we have been host to runners overnight, once in the 60’s hosting four Canadian age group Cross Country champions, and even provided steaks for their pre-race meal – an out of date idea I’m sure. We also hosted members of the Oxford-Cambridge team who competed against H.O.C. on their North American tour, despite the misgivings of the older H.O.C. directors.
In the 60’s I was track and field chairman of the Southwestern region of the O.T.F.A., and also president of H.O.C. I worked at the Pan Am Games in ’67, the Commonwealths in ’78, and the Montreal Olympics, at the marathon and race walk events. I believe I was well rewarded for the time I gave to the sport over the years, although you wonder at the attitudes of many officials at meets – are we there to run a good meet for the athletes or to act as overseers?
I have always tried to give as much as I could in a race on any given day of competition, and I often think that in any race there are too many athletes who should be content with just a training run around the block or the park. They certainly are in the so-called competition for the social status, stopping for minutes at the water stations, etc. Even in my slow state of running I notice I gain at least a minute or so with my quick action at the water stations, although I have never been able to take much fluid down, and use most of the water on my head and body.
Personal highs included coaching a midget boy of no great natural ability to run 4:59 for the mile in an International meet in Toronto. In the 60’s I received a plaque from my protégés with the inscription – to Ma and Whitey Sheridan from the regulars at the Running Roost. Of course in 1979, my 50th year of running, the Masters presented me with an oil painting of myself, and the H.O.C., a rocking chair – great gestures I’ll never forget – but I’m still running nevertheless.