Driskill ran the good race
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Behind the scraggly, gray beard and the quiet, soft-spoken demeanor was a stubborn, generous and passionate human being.
Whatever Paul Driskill set his mind to, he accomplished – especially when it came to running, his athletic pastime of choice since 1972.
Rain or shine, in sickness or in health, Driskill did whatever it took to fit a daily jog into his schedule. For a 14-year stretch, not a day passed when the former teacher at Glenwood Springs Elementary School didn’t lace up the running shoes and leg out his daily 13 miles.
“Every day after school, he’d run a half marathon,” longtime friend and teaching colleague Mike Vidakovich said. “He’d say, ‘I’ve gotta run my 13 miles.'”
After countless miles, most logged on streets and trails throughout Glenwood Springs, Driskill died on Dec. 24. The 73-year-old, who contracted Hepatitis C from a blood transfusion many years ago, succumbed to complications from the disease.
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While Driskill will be remembered most for his running, he will also be remembered for his generous spirit – particularly among those who knew him best.
Atop Driskill’s dedication to his craft – he taught at GSES for 30 years after stops in Guam and Silverton – the Lamar native wasn’t shy when it came to lending a helping hand. He and his wife, Jeannie, were more than willing to open their home to the downtrodden.
“He helped raise his grandkids,” Paul’s son, Qwo-Li Driskill, shared. “When I was in high school, he’d take care of my friends, too.”
Paul and Jeannie knew hard times themselves.
“They’ve had a hard time,” Qwo-Li said. “They know hard times. My mom grew up really poor and things haven’t been easy for them. They had to struggle for what they had. Some people become greedy after that, but my parents [didn’t].”
“Paul was always concerned about the downtrodden or kids who were having trouble at home,” longtime GSES counselor Darrell Stanley said. “He’d go out of his way to worry about their academics, their whole lives.”
Jeannie, whose marriage to Paul turned 50 years old on Sept. 12, knew her husband’s philanthropic spirit better than anyone.
“Yes, he was a very caring person,” she said. “I guess it just kind of came naturally.”
As did Paul’s stubborn approach to life. Though he spoke few words, he loudly and clearly expressed himself through his actions – especially when it came to running. Even if it meant plodding along through the snow or taking his act indoors, Paul rarely failed to put in his daily 13 miles.
Vidakovich, who not only taught with Paul but was a student at GSES while Paul taught there, remembers wandering into the GSES gymnasium one day as a fifth-grader.
“I go into the gym after school to shoot baskets in the winter time and Paul was running circles in the gym,” Vidakovich vividly recalled. “He had on a white-collared dress shirt, black slacks and black, wing-tip shoes. He’d take off his tie and sport coat.”
As the birthdays piled up, Driskill never stopped running. To those he brushed shoulders with at local races, he was known as the “running guru.” His attire often consisted of shorts bearing a United States flag and socks on his hands for warmth.
This hobby with which Driskill grew so obsessed took root back in 1972, when he and Stanley began a running regimen to better their health.
“My dad died on the operating table from heart surgery,” Stanley said. “The surgeon said I’d be on there if I didn’t start running three times a week, so I talked to Paul and we decided to start running together at the grade school. He never quit.”
Not even when a hit-and-run accident nearly claimed his life back in the early morning hours of Saturday, Sept. 22, 2007.
While in the midst of his daily jog, Driskill was struck by a vehicle and left for dead. A broken neck, injured spine, bleeding in his brain, broken ribs and a broken sternum, a gash to his jugular vein, stitches all over his face and major road rash were among the myriad injuries Driskill suffered.
He lost his pulse, had to be resuscitated and was airlifted to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction. Fittingly enough, one of the first things he asked doctors after regaining consciousness was: “Did I make my 16 miles?”
At 70 years old, no one would have faulted Driskill if he never ran another mile. But Driskill was no ordinary 70-year-old.
Just a couple months after the accident, he ran Glenwood Springs Golf Club’s annual Turkey Day 5K with the aid of a cane.
“That Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving was unbelievable,” said Rebecca Fuller, Driskill’s granddaughter. “Nothing could stop him. It was freezing and he was unstoppable. He was ready to get back into it and live life like the accident didn’t happen.”
He participated in races here and there afterwards until his health deteriorated to the point where he had to hang up the running shoes.
“The last three months he couldn’t jog anymore,” said Fuller. “That was devastating to him. Once he couldn’t do that, he was bummed.”
Though he wasn’t able to do what he loved during the waning months of his life, running is, above all else, how most in the Roaring Fork Valley will remember Driskill.
“I have no idea what, really, made him so passionate about running,” Fuller said. “He loved it. I don’t think anyone got really why. It’s just who he was. It defined him. The whole town knew him as the guy who was jogging rain, show or shine.”
There will be no funeral or memorial service for Driskill. Rather, the family will hold a memorial run sometime in the spring.
“We’re just going to do the race,” Fuller said. “He didn’t especially love to be the center of attention, especially if people were gathering for his death. I think he’d be a lot happier with people going out and running. It’s something he would have loved.
“Nothing would make him happier.”
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