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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:


Johnny Kelley and Doris Brown Heritage

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,

Hi John,

Congratulations on your upcoming induction into the National Distance Running Hall of Fame. Dale says you are nervous about making a speech, and that seems natural to me since runners would rather run than speak.

I think of a quotation that appeared in Marc Bloom's book, Run with the Champions, when you said" I often wonder why runners could accomplish what they did, it's like analyzing love or passion, why did I have to run. It remains one of the great mysteries of my life".

How fortunate we were to be able to follow our passion for running. See you in Utica.

Best wishes,

Nina Kucscik

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.

We swing ungirded hips,
And lightened are our eyes,
The rain is on our lips,
We do not run for prize.
We know not whom we trust
Nor whitherward we fare,
But we run because we must
Through the great wide air.

The waters of the seas
Are troubled as by storm.
The tempest strips the trees
And does not leave them warm.
Does the tearing tempest pause?
Do the tree-tops ask it why?
So we run without a cause
'Neath the big bare sky.

The rain is on our lips,
We do not run for prize.
But the storm the water whips
And the wave howls to the skies.
The winds arise and strike it
And scatter it like sand,
And we run because we like it
Through the broad bright land.

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.

John J. Kelley


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