Even after his death a little more than a year ago, Dan Conway is still inspiring people to run.
Trish Hawkins wasn’t aware of her Uncle Dan’s many storied running accomplishments until she read about them in the book he wrote shortly before his death from pancreatic cancer at age 79 and then attended his memorial service.
Along with winning national and world masters championships, the Superior-born Conway was a four-time Grandma’s Marathon masters winner and set two age-category records in the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon despite not picking up running until his late 30s.
Hawkins, who has lived in Mesa, Ariz., since 1984 and worked the past 22 years with the Mesa Fire and Medical Department, says Conway never talked about those accomplishments.
“I didn’t realize what an amazing runner he was,” she recalled by phone last weekend. “And I so regret that. He would write about races, but he was so humble that he didn’t share a lot. But when he wrote his book, “Carry On Regardless,” and I saw it in black and white, I was so impressed and sad that I hadn’t conversed with him much about it.”
Hawkins attended Conway’s memorial service in Superior in May 2018, where she had the opportunity to see firsthand her uncle’s many press clippings.
“After Uncle Danny passed, I went to his house and saw the 10 scrapbooks that he had, with all the newspaper articles about him. I finally realized that ‘Wow, he was a pretty big deal in (the Twin Ports) area,' " she said. “I knew I wanted to come back and experience, at a much slower pace, the race that he won for so many years in the masters.”
She met several of the students and athletes that the former coach and teacher had inspired over the years.
“I told a lot of them then that I would try to come back this year and run in his memory,” she said. “And my boyfriend and I are doing just that.”
Hawkins and her beau, Dave Dickinson, will run the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon for the first time Saturday.
“I hope I run into a couple of (the students) as they run past me in the race,” she joked.
Conway will posthumously receive the Ron Daws Ambassador Award at a 4 p.m. ceremony Saturday. Lynne Hoff, his girlfriend of 11 years, will accept the award.
Like her uncle, the 56-year-old Hawkins started running later in life, about 16 years ago. Since then, she has run more than 40 half-marathons — the last of which was in January — and eight marathons.
Dickinson, who had never run until meeting Hawkins about four years ago, now can’t stop. He eschews the 13.1-mile and 26.2-mile events for ultramarathons.
“I don’t like to call myself an ultra runner, but technically when you start doing races of more than 30 miles, that’s what you are,” he said. “I like to call myself an endurance runner.”
Dickinson met Conway when he visited the Mesa area in 2016, and saw the then-77-year-old do something remarkable.
“I only met Uncle Danny once and the guy was amazing,” he said. “He’s the only person that I’ve ever known, at his age, that could stand on one leg and lift the other leg and tie his shoe. I’ve never seen anybody do that before.”
Conway, who taught physical education and coached cross country for 25 years at Chetek (Wis.) High School before moving back to Superior and coaching there until 2012, did many memorable things in the course of his running career.
Though he didn’t train seriously for distance running until on a teaching gig in England in 1976, Conway was a quick learner. He won four national masters titles at 10 and 15 kilometers plus the 1983 world masters 10K title, along with setting a world record for the indoor mile and winning several national titles in the mile and 2-mile races.
Unfortunately for Hawkins, her memories of Conway running are intertwined with tragedy.
In January 1984, Hawkins, who was living in Peoria, Ill., at the time, traveled with her parents and two sisters to Madison to watch Conway run a 2-mile indoor race. Her mother, Helen (Gibbs) Hawkins, was Conway’s sister.
Driving back home to Illinois after the race, the Hawkins family was in a car accident that left the middle daughter, Mary Runte, a quadriplegic.
Hawkins never spoke to her uncle about the accident.
“Only after reading his memoir, did I really know how he felt,” she acknowledged, then reading a passage from Conway’s book which said: “I feel guilty as they came to see me compete.”
In a way, Hawkins will get a chance to connect with her uncle this weekend in a place that he always cherished.