The news came via a phone call from my sister. It wasn’t unexpected, but still was a shot to the gut.
Bill Bails died Sunday night after a long and courageous battle with cancer.
“Bill and Pre are running together up in heaven,” were the words on his Facebook page. The tributes poured in immediately.
Bails, 69, wasn’t a great athlete who made headlines in this, or any other, newspaper. He did, however, run a 2 hour, 58 minute and 22 second marathon in 1992.
But Bails was a lot of things to a lot of people.
He was a coach and athletics director for many years at Lincoln Community and North Cedar high schools, where they named the track and field complex in his honor.
He was a runner who kept moving even after his diagnosis, until his fragile body couldn’t take it anymore. He worked as the elite athlete coordinator for the Fifth Season 8K for several years.
He was a huge wrestling fan who loved meeting Iowa coaching legend Dan Gable. The two became close friends. He was equally enamored with Tom and Terry Brands, Doug Schwab and many others.
He was a volunteer who worked many Olympic Trials in track and field and wrestling.
He was a fan, as noted above, of American running legend Steve Prefontaine. He even befriended Pre’s sister.
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He was a fan of other sports, too, including juggling. He even hosted a 5K for “jogglers.”
He was a good man who hosted road races, raising funds and awareness for a variety of causes and people. He and Cornell wrestling coach Mike Duroe, who died last week after his own battle with cancer, were instrumental in the “Takedown Cancer Clinic” held before the Coe-Cornell wrestling dual every year.
He was a good friend who traveled to many Big Ten and NCAA wrestling tournaments with me. We logged many miles together — in a car and on our feet.
Bails actually did make the Sports page headlines a few times. He didn’t shy away from attention, but wanted it focused on his causes, not himself.
In 1994, at age 45, he ran across the state — 324 miles in eight days — to raise funds for Stanwood’s Public Library, where his mother once worked and his father helped take care of the building and lawn.
”I wanted to do something (to help) and the only thing I can do is run,” Bails said at the time.
That’s who Bill Bails was, a man who always put others ahead of himself.
He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2011, but battled harder and longer than anyone I’ve ever known. He didn’t lose this battle. He simply needed a rest.
“Don’t let any disease or illness beat you when you have a chance to beat it,” he said in 2015. “Always persevere and you can do anything. Keep doing what you want to do.”
Words to live by. Really live by.
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