Albuquerque · education · Running

A Great Runner and a Little Neighborhood History

In a few years, Caroline and her little sister (oh yeah, hey, we’re having another girl!) will attend John Baker Elementary School.

Until recently, I had no idea who John Baker was, and didn’t much care. Probably some local public servant, maybe politician, pillar of the community, yawn. The school is supposedly a good one, and that’s all I cared about.

Then my friend Meghann, an Albuquerque native, gave me this book — A Shining Season, by William J. Buchanan — saying how cool it was that I’m a runner and my kids will be going to a school named after a local running hero.

She had my attention.

Well. I just finished reading it, and am still trying to wrap my head around this man and his story. I tried to explain to Robin Hood how deeply it moved me, and foundered.

So I’m turning to you all, and I greatly appreciate your patience as I present to you this, well, book report.

The Running Bit:

  • Started running competitively at 16, in 1960
  • Went undefeated throughout high school
  • Four-time winner of Western Athletic Conference mile and cross-country titles at UNM
  • 4:01 miler

The Teaching Bit

  • Began teaching physical education at Aspen Elementary School in 1968
  • Encouraged, with enormous success, full student participation in school sports, coming up with roles and duties even for students with disabilities to ensure their inclusion
  • Met with parents on a regular basis, making sure they heard good things about their children from a teacher — relatively revolutionary at the time
  • Instrumental in leading and revitalizing the Duke City Dashers, a running team for pre-teen and teenaged girls (in 1970! Two years before Title IX!). The Dashers went on to win the AAU National Championship.

The Disease

    Diagnosed with embryonal cell carcinoma in May of 1969
    Succumbed to cancer on November 26, 1970, at age 26, living 12 months longer than doctors had originally predicted

Unsurprisingly, it was students who started the movement to change the school’s name to its present one: John Baker Elementary School.

I had no idea.

How often do we live years, or all of our lives, with stories like this right under our noses?

2 thoughts on “A Great Runner and a Little Neighborhood History

  1. Awesome story, I give you an A on the “book report.”
    There are some amazing people out there who give so much. Much more than most of us could ever dream of giving.
    It’s always so sad to hear of anyone cut down early in life, especially when they are a shining light in their communities.

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