John J. Kelley Inducted into the National Distance Running Hall Of Fame
July 10, 2002 - Utica, NY. Johnny Kelley was once called the Henry David Thoreau of running. His literate and thoughtful approach to his induction into the Hall of Fame is revealed in his acceptance speech. The following is a transcript:
I came to Utica with some mixed emotions. It's a very humbling experience to be named for this honor, and when you consider how many people truly deserve it, and I'm sure many of whom you consider are more deserving and will eventually receive this honor, none the less I felt it was one I couldn't dodge.
As things turn out, sometimes there's a kind of providence that directs our footsteps. To stretch out after our long ride from Connecticut this week, I took a walk up beautiful Genesee Street and I saw the park that had been dedicated to Nicholas Copernicus. As you know he advanced the heliocentric theory, the heretical principle then, of the sun being the center of the universe, rather than the earth. It occurred to me that when we're very young we naturally think of ourselves as the center of our universe, and when we are young runners we are natural protagonists against the world.
We see the mission of our lives to prove our competence, our efficiency and eventually establish a niche in some hall of fame. This seems to be quite natural, but in the natural development of the individual, the humbling effects of a larger universe take their toll upon him, so by the time an honor such as this comes to him, he is likely to hedge a little bit about even accepting it.
This week I needed the letter which arrived at mid-week, some of which I will read to you. It begins,
This is one of the most wonderful letters I've received and I wanted to thank my dear friend Nina for giving me the courage to take this step. I want close here, I think to, as we become aware that perhaps only poets, in their intensity for poetry perhaps they seek to establish their individuality, but in their larger conception of things they probably can give us a better look at our place in the universe.
I looked for a poem that could express this feeling of oneness and humble place in things through running and I found this, by a poet that was born in May 1895. His name was Charles Hamilton Sorley. Some of you may know the poem. It's called "The Song of the Ungirt Runner". So if you'll bear with me for three stanzas I'd like to read it.
Charles Hamilton Sorley wrote that poem in the summer of 1915. He was just 20 years old. On October 13, 1915 he was killed in action in what was then called The Great War, later known as the First World War.
I thank you all. I love Utica and I love you all and that is my message.
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