February 18, 2023 4 min read 7 Comments
Ray Tucker in the Ontario Indoor Masters on Feb. 5. Photo courtesy shaggysphotos.com
*Ray Tucker was a top high school miler in all of North America.
*Injuries curtailed his competitive running for almost 20 years.
*Running rescued him from sorrow.
By Ray Glier
For years, Ray Tucker’s love of competitive running was impenetrable, but an Achilles injury and nagging hamstrings transformed him from runner to someone who runs. Once rated as among the best high school milers in all of North America and, in his 30s and 40s, a highly-competitive Masters runner, Ray's injuries saddled him with pedestrian pace in his early 50s.
“I said to myself ‘maybe I’m through competitively’ and I kind of resigned myself to that,” Ray said. “I would do just easy running and not push it. That was hard mentally.”
When his wife died Dec. 27, 2018, suddenly at 3 in the morning, Ray needed to be a runner again.
Carol and Ray had been married 50 years. She was the reason Ray had turned down a chance to train at the university level in Toronto in 1965 where the coach thought the teenage Tucker could be the first Canadian to run a sub-4 minute mile and challenge the great Jim Ryun, who was the same age. Carol meant so much to Ray he could stay home and give up an opportunity like that.
When she died, Ray felt the despair that comes with unanticipated silence. “I had never been alone,” he said.
Ray was quiet for a moment before he said, “I was afraid of becoming a hermit.” He had a right to be afraid of the decay that comes with seclusion.
In his world of grief, Ray turned to a next love, which was running. In the first few months after Carol’s death, he felt some peace in his light jogs along the Grand River, which winds through Brantford, Ontario. At least he was getting out.
One day, Tucker added to the cadence of his jog. A few days later, he added some more pace. The Achilles held. The hamstrings stayed calm. He felt more peace. He could count on his legs.
Ray Tucker was no longer someone who runs. He was a runner. Again.
That was 2019. It didn’t matter if he was 72. It took him a year, but Ray started to enter events.
Two weeks ago, in the 52nd Ontario Masters Indoor Championships, Tucker won the Men’s 75 1500. There was just one other runner in the race, but what was truly prophetic was that Ray won this race in 1985 as a 37-year old. He still holds the record for the M35 1500 from that race 38 years ago (4:03.2).
“I didn’t think it would happen,” Ray said of running again in races against a clock and competitor. “Over the last four years I found my body was pretty healthy and was able to train and get results from it.”
On winning the same race at 37 years old and 75 years old, Tucker said, “To tell you the truth, I can't remember a thing about the first one.”
Two weeks ago, Ray ran 6:16.73, which was an age-graded time of 4:06.99. That was a lift.
There are a legion of stories on the benefits of running. The scars of emotional trauma, eating disorders, loss of identity, even lung illness have been made less debilitating by running. Ray is one of millions of people who insist running closes fault lines and activates a superpower in them.
“It was escapism, or whatever you call it, a mechanism for me dealing with everything,” Ray said. “I could get away, get out there and run, forget everything, and run along the river.”
Tucker ran in the Ontario Outdoor Masters in summer, 2022, and got locked in a 800-meter duel with two runners in their 60s. He came into the curve with 200 meters left stride for stride with both men.
“It was the first time in a long time I felt the real competitiveness come back,” Tucker said. “I was able to run with them right through to the finish line.”
Tucker finished second, 5/100 of a second behind the winner, and 13/100 ahead of the third-place runner. His goal in 2022 was to run a sub 2:50 800 meters and he ran 2:48.50 in that race.
It’s all about the goals, Ray said.
Tucker said he needs a challenge “to get myself out the door” so on March 26, after he turns 76, he is going to run a 30k in Burlington Bay. It was the same race he ran when he was 47 years old and a “ringer” showed up for that 100th Around The Bay, which is older than the Boston Marathon.
“Boston Billy,” Ray says, referring to the ringer, the running icon Bill Rodgers, who parachuted in for just that one race. They were the same age class and Rodgers beat Tucker by eight minutes to win the race. Ray finished third.
He hasn’t run a 30k since that 1994 race. Now that he’s back, why not do it again?
Building up miles for a 30k (18.6 miles) is the challenge he craves to keep himself together physically and emotionally and have some fun.
Ray Tucker is a runner again and it’s clear as day running helped lift the clouds around him.
Ray Tucker by the Grand River in Ontario. No clouds.
Geezer Jock is free. I want to drop all my other paid work and make this newsletter 100 percent what I do. Please consider supporting me. I wrote Sports for The New York Times, USA TODAY, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and others, from 1992 to 2020. I've been writing almost 50 years. "If you're not buying what I'm selling, it's my fault not yours."
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