Dan Bailey Still Plodding Along After All These Years

Retired Hixson Gentleman Still Manages To Stay Plenty Busy

Thursday, July 24, 2014 - by John Hunt

Dan Bailey has been retired from the Tennessee American Water Company for more than 10 years now, so he doesn’t get in a hurry to do anything.

He jokes about how slow he runs these days, but he felt better when reminded that if it wasn't for people like him, there would be no overall winners in local races.

The 71-year-old Bailey is originally from Ohio where he graduated from Wapakoneta High School.

  For those of us not familiar with this fine institution, it’s where America’s first moon-walking astronaut Neil Armstrong grew up and went to school.

He later attended Ohio University, but didn’t graduate, before going to work in Indiana.  He met his lovely wife Irene about the same time and they got married in October ’67.  They lived in Indiana for 15 years before moving to Chattanooga some 33 years ago.

Dan was the all-around athlete in high school where he played football, basketball, baseball and ran track.

“I really liked football and wanted to play for Woody (the late Ohio State coach Woody Hayes), but I wasn’t good enough.  Baseball was my second favorite until I figured out I couldn’t hit a curve ball,” he said Wednesday afternoon while relaxing in the kitchen of their neat-as-a-pen spacious Hixson home.

Dan’s running career started in his late 20s, but it wasn’t anything real memorable.

“The loop in our neighborhood was about three-quarters of a mile around and I could run about halfway.  I ran in high-top tennis shoes and a bathing suit because they didn’t have running clothes then like they do now,” he laughed.

Let’s just say that Dan never set the woods on fire with his running , but it’s an activity he’s enjoyed ever since and he still logs about 20 miles a week as he tries to get in at least three runs per week.

Bailey has been an active member of the Chattanooga Track Club for more than 20 years and he was thrown into the middle of the action pretty quickly.

“George Skonberg called me one day and then Bill Brock got me on the track club board.  I served as the CTC treasurer for a couple of years and I spent about eight years as the race director for the ever-popular Missionary Ridge Road Race, which is held every August with the start and finish at Bragg Reservation.

“Bill and George teamed up on me and I never had a chance.  I was Chairman of the Board at the American Red Cross at the time and they talked me into being the race director since the proceeds benefitted the American Red Cross,” Bailey recalled.

Dan has a lot of positive memories from his days as that race director, but his most obvious memory wasn’t necessarily a good one.

“John Bruner’s death near the end of that race has to be my number one memory as I’ll never forget that day.  There were doctors and nurses working with him after he collapsed, but we didn’t have an ambulance on site.  I felt so helpless as I knew he wasn’t doing well when they took him to the hospital,” Dan remembered.

Young Bruner, an outstanding high school runner at Dalton, was preparing for his freshman season at Dalton State when he died that day at the tender age of 19.  It was an experience that rocked everyone’s boat.

“Since that day, I’ve gotten to be good friends with his father Greg, who came back the next year and said a pre-race prayer.  And now, half of the race proceeds go to the John Bruner Foundation and the other half to the Red Cross.

“My goal there was to always put on a good quality race and I feel like we did as we got some really nice positive feedback from the runners.  The key was my having a whole lot of really good volunteers and they always wanted to come back.  We didn’t make a lot of money at that race, but we always made something,” he added with pride.

Dan and Irene have three sons, twins Ron and Doug and Marc, who is the youngest.  Dan’s last race was a 5K in Sale Creek in which he participated with Ron and his two sons.

“I finished last of the four Baileys, but not the last person to finish the race.  I’m so slow these days, I have to look sideways to make sure the scenery is changing,” Dan laughed.

While the experience on that sad day at the Ridge created lasting memories, so did another morning when he was with a group of running buddies at the GPS track.

It was March 2006 and they were doing speed work in preparation for the Maui Marathon, which was held about six months later in Hawaii.  The workout had ended and the group had gotten water before walking across the parking lot by the tennis courts as they got ready to run back to the YMCA.

Without any notice or warning, Bailey collapsed and was unconscious.  Bill Brock and Phil Thomas began CPR while Missi Johnson went to call an ambulance.  Dan had come back to life a little bit, but he was transported to Memorial Hospital and spent the next three days there.

“I was somewhat alert and talking when the ambulance got there, but they took me to Memorial where they determined I had a heart attack.  They ran all kinds of tests and couldn’t find anything abnormal, but they finally detected a blockage and put in a stent.

“I’m proud to say that I recovered enough to finish that Maui Marathon almost six months to the day from that experience,” he added.

Dan was never one to run a bunch of road races, but he has completed nine marathons and has taken some really nice trips on most of them.

His first was at Chickamauga in 1998.

“I did my first when I was 55 and had to learn how to pace myself.  I really struggled those last few miles, but I finally made it.  I beat my son Ron and Reggie Capers that day,” he recalled.

Others have included Chicago, Boston, New York, Marine Corp, Big Sur and the Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville.

“Rocket City should have been the easiest since it’s so flat, but I sprained my ankle during that race and was too stubborn to stop.  That turned out to be my hardest,” Bailey laughed.

Even though it’s been several years since he last ran a 26.2-mile race, he still has the desire to do another.

“I would still like to run the Rome Marathon in Italy.  I’m not ready to pull the trigger on that yet as I’m just not mentally ready, but if they offered a half, I’d sign up today.  I’ve heard that the Pope comes out and blesses the runners as they go by, but he’d probably be tucked in bed asleep by the time I got by,” he joked.

Bailey has been retired and life is much more leisure than it once was, but it’s not like he’s sitting around the house with nothing to do.

“I still do some part-time consulting work with the water company and we enjoy working in the yard.  I hope it shows,” he said proudly, their yards carefully manicured with beautiful flowers all around.

Perhaps his biggest outside interest is in Ohio State football.  Irene went to school there and may be a bigger fan than her husband, but they always plan at least one trip to Columbus each fall to watch their beloved Buckeyes play.

They’ve also been to a pair of national championship games, but they weren’t as much fun as the guys in red and gray got thumped by SEC powers LSU and Florida those two years.

Dan is also part of the chain crew at Hixson High School football games with the Fullers. 

“Those guys are always giving me a hard time about not paying attention, but I tell them the game has to end by 9 p.m. because that’s my bedtime.  Mark and Ron both substitute for me when needed,” Dan laughed.

Bailey has been a part of the early-morning group of runners at the Y on Saturday mornings in recent years, but he got in the habit of getting there a lot earlier than everyone else and being finished before the group run began around 6:30.

“I still enjoy running and exercise.  I’m also a morning person, so I like to get up early, but both Irene and I were caregivers for our mothers and I needed to be home to help when they needed me,” he continued, noting that his mother passed away on January 3 at the young age of “98 and three-quarters.”

While all of the Bailey sons live in Chattanooga, they also have seven grandchildren, including grandsons Jaret and Jack who run cross country at Sale Creek.

“Going and watching them run last fall was really amazing.  I really enjoyed that and I guess it was because I could relate to what they were doing.  I just hope they’ll keep it up,” Dan smiled.

Dan Bailey is having the time of his life these days and he’s still up and on the go early on most mornings.  He has certainly reaped the benefits of running and he has a memory bank full of good times.

Chances are good that he’ll make it to Rome one day for that next marathon.  And maybe one of his running buddies can get the word to the Vatican that the Pope needs to wait a little while before coming out because old Dan will eventually get there.

“I don’t run with a group much anymore because I’m too slow, but someone has to bring up the rear,” he concluded with another hearty laugh.

(This is the 22nd in a series of features on Chattanooga runners.  If you know of someone who might make an interesting story, email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@comcast.net)


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