When I come home from a week of traveling, there is always a pile of newspapers to be sorted through. As you might guess, I love newspapers, and consider our subscriptions to the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Los Angeles Times to be very low-cost watchdog fees. The one lying on top of the pile was LATExtra, the AA section of the Times for Friday, April 27. Eventually I worked my way to the obits.
I seldom read the obituary section, but when it catches my eye, I become completely engrossed. I love reading the tributes to loved ones, seeing what is said when entire lives are summed up in a few lines. Do the families choose photos that were taken recently, or long ago?
The first one was for a gentleman named William George Armbruster. At one point the writer of the obituary said, "Well Bill, you finally made the 'Irish Sports page' as you called the obituary columns." I think I would have liked Bill Armbruster.
The obits are in alphabetical order, so it was a while before I had the shock of seeing a familiar name. John W. Pagliano. "Sports podiatrist, world class runner, lecturer, father, husband, brother, uncle, passed away Friday, April 20, 2012."
I don't want to give the impression that Dr. Pagliano was a close friend, although he was someone I would have been honored to know better. I saw him only a few times, as a patient of his practice of podiatry. He was an excellent doctor, someone who took time with his patients and treated them kindly. He didn't just hurry in, prescribe, and dismiss. He explained the problem, treated it, and told you what to do to prevent its return.
He was an internationally recognized specialist in sports medicine and injury prevention, and a well-known runner. In high school, inspired by Roger Bannister's 1954 world record run -- the first mile under four minutes, a feat some said would never be accomplished -- John Pagliano began running. It became a lifelong love. He is in Occidental College's Track and Field Hall of Fame as an ultra long distance runner from the class of 1962. He continued running -- this 2009 article in Running Times mentions that he was then routinely covering 45 miles a week. I recently learned that he had been diagnosed with lymphoma in 2005 -- so that adds a little more perspective. He ran over 100 marathons and ultra-marathons.
His practice of sports podiatry in Long Beach spanned over forty years. His patients included many of the rock stars of running and other sports. His articles and professional publications on the subject of injury prevention and treatment made him an icon in the field. He taught others as well, serving as a clinical instructor at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and elsewhere.
Once I went to see him was when I had been injured while training for a marathon. I was not a gazelle. I did not and do not resemble the lithe figures you picture when you say "runner." I was in that group known in running circles as a "Clydesdale." Big and slow. At the starting line, we stay back, let the racers go first, then begin our version of a marathon. It's all good. I had an excellent coach, John Loeschhorn. I could write a lot about the experience, but for now, I'll just say that I knew that running the marathon was an all-day event. My goal was to finish, not to break any records. Ideally, to finish before the course closed. I trained for months, determined to cross that line 26.2 miles from where I started.
Then came the injury. While the injury itself was painful, more overwhelming were my fears that I wouldn't be able to participate in the event. Not only did Dr. Pagliano reassure me that I'd be able to do so, he gave me good advice for staying healthy while I continued to train. When I went to see him in a follow-up visit, I confessed to him that I had a typical first-marathoner's fear that I wouldn't be able to go the distance. He asked me to tell him the farthest distance I had run in training. When I did so, he again reassured me. I can't put this into words, really -- but there was something so calm and certain in that reassurance -- he looked me right in the eye and said with a sincerity I could not doubt, "You'll do it. You'll make it."
It gave me faith that long outlasted my recovery from the injury. Many times during my training and that marathon, I thought of Dr. Pagliano. Although most of his patients were people who would have been able to run the race more than twice as fast as I did, he had never treated me as a lesser being. I was runner. I would be all right.
There are so many of us, whether Clydesdales, gazelles, athletes, or couch potatoes, who know we will be all right because of John Pagliano. I will think of him with gratitude over the distance.
Donations in his memory may be made to:
Dr. John W. Pagliano Memorial Fund
1600 Campus Road
M-11 Tiger Club
Los Angeles, CA 90041
Please contact Dana Valk with questions: 323-259-2678
To learn more about Dr. Pagliano, please visit:
Advanced Foot and Ankle Center, "Dr. John Pagliano, DPM."
Club Ed Running, "A Huge Loss for Runners Everywhere."