Westcliffe runner, 74, overcomes long odds

by | Oct 10, 2007 | News Articles

Westcliffe runner, 74, overcomes long odds

You won’t find the word “quit” in Joe D’Angelo’s personal code of conduct dictionary.

At an age (74) when even the most ardent of runners have long since hung up their Asics gel shoes for more sedentary pursuits, D’Angelo is actually at the start of the second phase of his distance-running career. But it sure hasn’t been easy getting there.

D’Angelo was a running machine for most of his adult life, recording multiple finishes of Pikes Peak races, the 14.5-mile climb to Mt. Evans, the 50-mile Laramie-to-Cheyenne jaunt in Wyoming, the Garden of the Gods 10-Mile run and even a 100K from Philadelphia, his native habitat, to New Jersey. Only the Leadville 100 eluded his ledger of accomplishments despite three attempts, with 65 miles being his longest trek there.

There were 106 marathons in all, including the ultras. He qualified for the Boston Marathon twice at the age of 50.

A lifetime of running and racing seemed certain to continue when D’Angelo retired from his job as a project manager for Jefferson County Public Schools in 1997 and moved with his wife to Westcliffe to escape the hustle and bustle that accompanied living in Conifer outside Denver.

Soon afterward, disaster struck.

On June 29, 1999, D’Angelo was the victim of a hit-and-run driver that resulted in a head-on collision in which he rolled his 1974 Ford pickup truck and was catapulted through the windshield. The miracle was that he lived since he had been given a slim chance to survive. But he suffered a crushed pelvis and shoulder, and a torn sciatic nerve left him with a paralyzed right leg and a “drop foot.”

He was immobile for a solid year. Eventually, he was able to get around enough that, after a few years, he could go on hikes.

But running was out of the question for good, right?

Ya gotta believe. Or as D’Angelo put it, “You can either quit or pick up and get going.”

He got going, getting back into the game with what he calls “slogging.” It was shuffle running at best. Being around the Custer County High School cross country team that he coaches helped, as did assistant coach Rob O’Callahan, and he eventually shuffled through a couple of short races.

The real goal for D’Angelo was resuming his long-distance adventures, though, and he eventually set his goal on the Coeur d’Alene Marathon in Idaho. He trained a bit with the team and some with O’Callahan, and he dropped close to 15 pounds by shuffle-running five days a week with a long weekly run of 15-18 miles.

On May 27 this year, Joe D’Angelo, 11 years removed from his last marathon, defied the odds once again by completing Coeur d’Alene in 7:10:57, good for last in the field of 321 runners but first in the hearts of those who know what he has overcome.

Next on his list, as he resumes his quest to run a marathon in all 50 states, is the inaugural Bass Pro Shops Marathon in Springfield, MO on Nov. 4. He soon will begin tapering for it, having already gotten in his long weekly training runs of 18-20 miles.

Many have asked him why he puts himself through such ordeals.

“My answer is a simple one — because I can,” D’Angelo said. “Something I relate to my athletes that I coach, and I quote: ‘The body can go on long after the mind has quit.’ “

Quit? Joe D’Angelo wouldn’t know what it means.


The outdoor “classroom” that was built in his memory is a testament to the respect that the late Rusty Weiler gained during his nearly three decades of teaching and coaching at Pleasant View Middle School before dying prematurely of a heart attack four years ago. And the Hustle for Russell 5K road race that perpetuates that memory further is used to raise funds to renovate the classroom and provide an annual $1,000 scholarship in his name. The fifth annual version of the race is scheduled for Nov. 3 at the middle school and will include, in addition to the 5K run, 1-mile and 5K walks along with short-distance kids runs ($10 entry free) on the track. This is one of those “feel good” events with music, a myriad of prize drawings and special focus on youth. A flat course is suitable for personal records, too.

On Oct. 6, the scene shifts to Canon City for another 5K run/walk along the Riverwalk – the Autumn River Walk and Run. This event was will start further west at the newly-expanded trail at Centennial Park near the duck pond by Fourth St.


Bike races in the Pueblo area are quite unique, so a new venue at Pueblo Industrial Park and the addition of a 20-mile bike race has given a whole new dimension to the annual Survivor 5K Run/Walk/Ride that will take place this Sunday beginning at 9 a.m. Participants choose either the 5K or the bike race, and all entrants are eligible for drawings of some fantastic prizes that will include a Nintendo Wii Sports Pack Game System, iPods, sports gear, a YMCA family membership, etc. The event benefits the Pueblo Rape Crisis Services center, and registration is under way both there at 301 W. 13th Street and at the Gold Dust Saloon at 217 S. Union Ave.


Brian VanIwarden of Canon City led a contingent of eight area runners at the St. George Marathon in Utah last Saturday, VanIwarden, 28, ran a swift 3:04 and was followed by Thom LeDoux, 33, also of Canon City, in 3:07. Pueblo finishers were Diane Lopez, 49, 4:09; Maribeth Butler-Sisnroy, 43, 4:25; Diana Tiffany, 45, 4:32; Hilda Olivas, 52, 5:01; Rebecca Parrish, 29, 5:27; and Tim Parrish, 26, 5:54.

The marathon odyssey of “50 Staters” members Marv Bradley, 68, of Canon City and Cheryl Cook-McCoy, 63, of Salida continued Sept 23 at the Quad City Marathon in Moline, IL where Marv ran a 4:30 and Cheryl a 5:51.

Race Calendar

• Saturday – Survivor Run/Walk/Ride, choose 5K run/walk or 20M bike ride, 8 a.m., Airport Industrial Park (947-3682).
• Oct. 20 – Harvest Run (Prediction Series race), 5M, 5 p.m., Lovell Park in Pueblo West (564-9303).
• Nov. 3 – Hustle for Russell, 5K run/walk, 1M walk & kids run, 9 a.m., Pleasant View Middle School, 23600 Everett Rd. (564-7813.
• Nov. 10 – Atalanta Women’s 5K, run/walk, 8:45 a.m. walk, 9 a.m. run, Pueblo City Park (564-9303).
• Nov. 24 – Temple Canyon Run (Prediction Series race), 4M, 9 a.m., Canon City (785-6514).
• Dec. 1 – Rock Canyon Half-Marathon, 9 a.m., Pueblo City Park (564-9303).
• Dec. 16 – Rudolf’s Rudolph’s Reindeer Romp (Prediction Series race), 4.25M, 9 a.m., 10 Nona Brooks Ct. in Pueblo, 561-0741.


• Southern Colorado Runners: www.socorunners.org

Send comments and fitness information to Gary Franchi via e-mail at garyf@bresnan.net.