Monday, February 9, 2009

Remembering my Friend, Bill Paradis

One year ago, on February 10, 2008 the New England running community sufferd a tragic loss. Bill Paradis died of a massive heart attack while running the Hampton Half Marathon. He was 55 years old. When he was in his forties Bill was 50 pounds overweight and was borderline diabetic. He decided to take control of his life and began running and eating correctly. He became fit and healthy, running many road races, marathons and a few ultras. He wasn't slow...I remember a 3:26 at Boston and a 7:50 or so at the Nifty Fifty. He became a bicycling enthusiast, particularly interested in Randonneus. Bill was an active member of the Rochester Runners, Randonneus USA, The Bicycle Coalition of Maine, and the Granite State Wheelers. He became an advocate for living a healthy lifestyle and spread his enthusiasm through words and by example.

Bill and I first met many years ago on a long run arranged by our mutual friend, Tom Littlefield. Bill was not a shy man and I recall he kept a lively and entertaining conversation going throughout the run. As with almost everyone who took the time to get to know Bill, I soon considered him a good friend. I had the privilidge of sharing many training runs, races, hikes, and bike rides with Bill over the years.

Bill was my true supporter when I made the transition to ultrarunning. As soon as I announced that I wanted to try an ultra, Bill said he'd do it too. We trained for and then ran our first ultramarathon at Rhode island's Nifty Fifty. A few years later Bill was my patient and tireless pacer at my first 100 mile race at the vermont 100. By the time Bill joined me at mile 68 or so, I was grumpy and tired and wanting to stop. He kept his usual good cheer but also became uncharacteristically tough. Running through that night with Bill, quitting just wasn't an option. He was just what I needed to make it through.

Bill was enthusiastic about tinkering and repairing things. He had a bike shop in his basement that was a sight to behold. Along with an impressive assortment of classic road bikes in various stages of repair, he had some conversation pieces like his "tall bike" and his "sideways bike". You wouldn't catch me on either of those, but Bill could ride them both! When I suffered a back injury that kept me from mountain biking, Bill rebuilt a tiny antique pink woman's Peugeot Racing Bike and presented me with my first road bike. He affectionately referred to that Bike as Miss Pinky. As I became more serious about my cycling I purchased a new road bike and gave Miss Pinky back to Bill. He tuned her up and passed her on to another Rochester Runner and then another. Thanks to Bill and Miss Pinky, there are several new women road cycling enthusiasts in the Rochester Runners Club. Miss Pinky is still on the road today, I believe Amy Lindsay has her at present.

When I was newly divorced, in financial trouble, depressed, and the new owner of a 150 year old home that needed a lot of work, Bill, Tom, and Fay were my first guests. We had a run and then some breakfast. During the tour of my house, Bill noticed that my big heavy Bowflex Revolution was out in the barn and asked about it. I told him that my son and I had been unable to carry it in, so it was just going to have to be stored out there. Bill sized it up with his mechanic's eye and announced, "The four of us can get this into the house." Fay and I added together were about 180 pounds of weakling and Tom was just recovering from a serious heart condition. This piece of equipment weighs about 300 pounds and is very awkward to move. We were skeptical. But Bill expertly disassembled it into manageable pieces and directed us as to where to stand and how to lift. Before long my home gym was set up and ready to use. And nobody was injured! I was feeling so hopeless at the time that this small accomplishment gave me a huge lift. I hope Bill knew how much that meant to me.

Bill and his wife Kathy were the type of couple everyone envied. After thirty-three years they were still so in love that it showed to everyone around them. I remember one outing several years ago where we were cross country skiing on tough black diamond trails with a small group from the Rochester Runners. I was thinking, "Bill must be loving this," because he was quite a dare devil. But when I looked back I saw he had taken off his skis to walk hand in hand with Kathy to easier trails because she wasn't comfortable on those black diamond trails. It was a sight that touched my heart and stays with me to this day. I am so happy to see Kathy is still out there running and snowshoeing and going on with the business of enjoying life. I know Bill would be very proud of her.

Tomorrow on the anniversary of Bill's death, I will be out celebrating life with a long run. Bill will be with me.


  1. Thank you for the reflection as I start my day today. I was at the Hampton Half and passed a bit after he had taken ill. Although I did not know him or what had happened, I will never forget that race. Life is short, although often times the roads are long, running is a metaphor for it all.

  2. I remember reading about a runner having a heart attack at the Hampton Half last year but didn't know the man. Your heartfelt remembrance of a dear friend brings us just a little closer to knowing Bill.

  3. Bill sounds like a nice man and great friend. Remember the fun times. I'm sure he would want it that way.

  4. Thanks for the kind comments. It has been a tough day, but I do remember Bill with a happiness that I wouldn't have known without him.

  5. Bill was a great man with a big heart that I'm thankful to have known. His bike shop was one of the coolest things I've ever seen. I am sad that I didn't get to have as much time with him as you did, thank you for sharing your memories of Bill with me.

  6. Laurel couldn't have said it better. That was Bill. To know Bill and Kathy is to love them. They definately are two of the warmest people ever. I remember when I first came to a club run at their house-it was their annual pancake breakfast in January. They were so welcoming and their enthusiasm for life and family was contageous. Thanks for taking the time to share.

  7. Your reflection on Billy's life, loves, and the impact that he had on everyone who he knew is right on.

    I'm an avid cyclist and first met Billy one morning on my way to school. It was a dark frigid morning and as I descended the first hill on Guinea Rd in Berwick. I saw this exceptionally bright but slow-moving headlight moving toward me. I was startled, as cycling in the early morning hours, I don't pass many other cyclists. I didn't expect it to be a cyclist. In fact, I was kind of scared, unaware of what was about to happen. I stopped riding and dismounted my bike. I put my bike between me and the "oncoming light" in case I needed to use it to protect myself.

    All of a sudden I heard a voice. "Hey! Good morning! My name is Billy!! I've been wanting to meet you for a while! What are you riding? Oh my! A Rocky Mountain! Cool! Where did you get that?"

    Can you imagine how much more scared I became? All alone in the dark with some cycling "freak" coming at me? I wasn't sure what to think.

    While I continued to keep my guard, I did engage in conversation with this odd traveler. After a few minutes I learned that Billy was in fact an avid cyclist and just interested in meeting others who share his passions.

    This random encounter sparked an amazing friendship and plenty of comraderie in the saddle. About a week after this encounter Billy and Kathy had me and my family over for dinner and after seeing his amazing bike collection and shop in his basement, I knew this was the beginning of a solid friendship! I even had the opportunity to ride the tall bike. If you've seen it, you know what a feat that was!

    Billy and I spent many hours - usually early in the morning - riding side by side talking about everything and nothing. Mostly the conversations revolved around his amazing family and the plans that they were making and the projects they were engaged in. After only a few rides I felt like although I had not met his children, that I knew them.

    We talked a lot about the races and trips that he had planned as well. I was always envious. In fact, all of these talks inspired me to run my first road race - the Red's 5 mile race last year - that I ran by Kathy's side. This isn't the only inspiration that Billy has had on my life. I am so lucky to have known such an amazing human being. There aren't many people out there like Billy.

    Billy still rides by my side quite often and this weekend will be my tribute ride to him. I plan on riding one of my favorite rides that Billy took me on. I will plan on meeting him half way on Guinea like we always used to - super early in the morning - and I know that I won't beat him - because I never did - but I will race to meet him and then we will ride side by side.

    Thank you for keeping Billy's spirit alive.

  8. Laurel, thank you for such a wonderful tribute to Bill. He touched so many of us in so many different ways. I am in tears as I think about all of the ways I was so positively influenced by Bill. He was by far one of my biggest cheerleaders and motivators as I entered in the world of running in 2002. I'll never forget at my first half marathon ever (Hyannis), that he finished the race and ran a few miles back on the course to meet up with me and accompany me on my last few miles of the race. He ended up running 18+ miles that day when he had planned to run a half marathon. But he did it because he wanted to support me. And he got more than he baragined for when he witnessed my truck driver mouth for the first time (he never let me forget that!). This is just one small example of how Bill was there for all of us whenever we needed it...and even when we thought we didn't. We are blessed and lucky to still have Kathy in our lives, as she is just as special. I will never be able to run the Hampton Half Marathon again after witnessing Bill's passing on the course last year; however, he is with me in spirit on so many of my long runs. He gives me the strength I need. Take care, Alison Black

  9. Dear Laurel, Thank you for giving all of us a snapshot of a typical day with Billy.
    He was a humdinger of a guy -- the best husband a girl could have. I still love him and will to the end of my dying days. I remember the afternoon he came back home after coordinating setting up the Bowflex machine at your new, old house. He was just so happy to have helped you. That, in effect, was who he was -- always looking for a solution to problems. He was usually in the know & was seldom wrong. We all looked up to him for advice -- mechanical advice, advice on running injuries, advice on what car to buy, what bicycle to purchase, travel, health, history, obsure facts, running stats, family dilemas -- the list goes on and on. And we knew we could count on him for a laugh. He could make all of us laugh so hard our bellies would hurt! Living with Bill has taught me a lot. How to have confidence in myself. How not to be afraid to go outside of my comfort zone. How NOT to take yourself too seriously! The world was his playground. He was always looking forward to his next adventure or challenge. Hope I can follow in his footsteps. Thank you, all of you, for enriching Bill's life. I have this posted on my refrigerator:
    I CAN CLOSE MY EYES AND WISH HE WERE BACK WITH ME OR I CAN OPEN MY EYES AND SEE ALL THAT HE HAS GIVEN ME. I was so fortunate to be Mrs. Bill Paradis. What you wrote, Laurel, made me cry; it was so well written. Thanks again. Kathy