Remembering Gary Heard, a wonderful New York Road Runners coach and an all-around great guy
Sad news for the New York running world
I am absolutely heartsick over the news that running coach Gary Heard has passed away. He was 73 years old, and he died after a race we both ran this past Wednesday night.
I knew Gary from the New York Road Runners Turnover Tuesday training classes I took in Prospect Park this winter. Gary was a tremendous coach for NYRR and the most memorable part of those classes.
He reintroduced himself to me the other day, right before Race #4 of the Prospect Park Track Club Al Goldstein Summer Speed Series 5K. Gary was wearing a red New York Flyers singlet, not his NYRR coaching clothes, so it took me a sec to recognize him, but then I was very happy to see him again.
So I talked to him about the upcoming NYRR training sessions, and then I ended up asking to connect with him in LinkedIn. I got his full name (I only knew his first name until then) and sent him an online request to connect. Then we wished each other luck as the race started.
Less than 30 minutes later, when I was heading towards Mile 2 in the 5K, I saw a police car and a bunch of runners and PPTC volunteers standing around on the race course, and I looked to see what was going on. Maybe a cyclist was hit or something? Or something else bad had happened?
Then I saw a runner getting major medical attention from a first responder and I gasped. The person in medical distress was Gary.
Because I now knew his full name, I was able to relay that to the PPTC volunteers I saw nearby, and that he was an NYRR coach. They apparently did not know his name before that.
Later on in the race, I saw an ambulance, apparently with him in it, go to leave the park, and I said a prayer for Gary.
After the race, I talked to some PPTC officers after the race about what I saw and how I knew him. Everybody seemed pretty shaken.
I wrote the other day about that race, and how my mind was elsewhere.
I only knew Gary for a few months, but he made a great impact on me.
Over the years, I have been at various “group” runs where I was actually running by myself the whole time. And where I wondered why I even bothered to take the time to show up, especially when I had to endure a long public transportation journey just to get there.
Also, sometimes, when you do get attention from other runners or running leaders, it can come across as a little condescending — making you feel as if you’re less than a real runner.
But Gary wasn’t that way. He always made me feel like a real runner and like an integral part of our Turnover Tuesday group.
Multiple times in the training series, he ran separately with me, and talked with me about my running goals and how to achieve them. It was as if I had my own personal running coach in the training classes!
While running with him on Turnover Tuesdays, I was able to report the progress I had been making in road races, thanks to the classes. Like when I did my second-best ever time in the mile in the Forest Avenue Mile this past March.
More than one person in my life has wondered why I needed to take running training classes after so many road races. But I am always open to learning and improving, and Gary helped make these classes memorable, informative, and useful.
Thanks to him, I felt like what I was learning in these New York Road Runners classes was well worth the money.
Anyhow, as for Gary’s personal bio, he apparently had a longtime career in insurance, and then became a running coach in recent years.
He was a natural as a coach. He also had quite the resume as a runner. The Prospect Park Track Club, which reported his passing, said the following:
“We are deeply saddened by the death of Gary Heard following Wednesday's Al Goldstein Speed Series 5K. Mr. Heard was a beloved member of the New York Flyers team, a coach for NYRR's group training program, and finisher of 19 marathons, including six NYC Marathons and four Bostons; eight Hood to Coast Relays; and numerous other races. Our thoughts and sympathies are with Mr. Heard's family and friends in this challenging time.”
Here is viewing/funeral information for Gary Heard, courtesy of a friend of his. I’m planning on attending the Thursday viewing.
Rest in peace, Gary. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.
Joseph G. Duffy Funeral Home
255 9th Street (at 4th Avenue)
Brooklyn, NY 11215
Thursday, July 14: 7:00 - 9:00 p.m. (Bastille Day – Gary was a real francophone)
Friday, July 15: 2:00 - 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 - 9:00 p.m.
St. John - St. Matthew - Emanuel Lutheran Church
283 Prospect Avenue (between 5th and 6th Avenues)
Brooklyn, NY 11215
Saturday, July 16: 10:00 a.m.
Repast to follow in the church social hall.
Gary’s family welcomes flowers, but for those preferring to make a charitable contribution they have provided a list of organizations Gary supported:
Connecticut Science Center
Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders)
New York University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
GSAS Donor Fellowship Fund
Southern Poverty Law Center
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