The saying goes that "life begins at 40." Perhaps for some, but for Dr. Edgar Byron Morgan Sr., life began at 66. It was at the ripe age of 66 that Dr. Morgan ("Doc" as he became known in running circles) completed his first marathon. It wasn’t just any marathon; Doc chose the famed New York City marathon as his first conquest. It would begin the start of a 23 year love affair with running.
Graham Honaker, one of Doc's beloved friends, tells a vivid story of his relationship with Doc, the impact Doc had on his life, and the amazing feats Doc accomplished.
"Doc was the toughest man I ever knew and perhaps the most accomplished too," says Honaker. "A family practitioner for 50 years, Doc delivered hundreds of babies, many of whom still roam the Louisville area today. His passion was his family, including four children and many grandchildren. Doc also became an accomplished horseman, so much so that he now has a place in the Kentucky Harness Horseman’s Hall of Fame. Yet it was running that ultimately defined the legend of Doc.
"As his children grew older and his time at the Churchill Downs racetrack wound down, Doc sought a cure for his insatiable competitive desire. He found it in running. Shortly after turning 60, Doc went out for a short stroll around his neighborhood. His competitive nature quickly transformed the stroll into a jog. Doc ended up jogging 2 miles that day, he would run for thousands of more miles over the next two decades.
"Doc became a running legend in Louisville, Kentucky – a town that loves its racing. Doc would go on to compete in hundreds of local races over the next two decades and starting running marathons - worldwide. He was renowned not just for consistently winning age group awards, but for his intensity and toughness. Doc hated to lose and his competitiveness only increased with age. Family members can recall Morgan sprinting to the end of his races, trying to outlast a competitor whether it was a stranger or one of Morgan’s own grandsons.
"After suffering several falls, Doc was encouraged by several family members to give up running. Doc would have none of this. He responded by becoming the first and last runner I’ve ever seen who wore a bike helmet while he ran his races.
Honaker talked with Swag Hartel, long-time owner of Swag’s shoe store. He believes Hartel summarizes Doc’s will the best. "I remember watching the finish of the Wally Bright Race in 2002 and seeing Doc fall over," said Hartel. "I went to help him and he became very indignant. He got up, made it to the finish line, and collapsed again. God rest his soul! After the race his wife asked if we sold elbow pads and a couple of days later they came in and bought some!"
Honaker says that, despite their 56-year age gap, he and Doc were great friends. "I met Doc after I joined the Louisville Kiwanis Club but our friendship, naturally, revolved around running," says Honaker. "As I prepared for my marathons, Doc became the greatest coach I could ever have. Doc gave me the best advice. 'Don't be a sightseer in New York, it'll come back to haunt you,' 'Do your speedwork!,' and even prescribed pickle juice to help relieve the leg cramps which consistently ailed me. It worked! He was always the first to call after I finished a marathon. 'Not bad, you'll do better next time.' He was also the first to congratulate me on my wedding day. 'Don't let married life get in the way of your running now!'
"My favorite Doc story occurred back in 2003. I was scheduled to run a 5-mile race on a fall morning. Doc and his beloved wife (and greatest fan), Katherine, were set to meet to me at the race that morning. As I returned home from work on Friday afternoon, I ended up in a very bad car accident that required a trip to the hospital. My car was totaled but fortunately I walked away unscathed. Feeling pretty woozy, I walked out of the emergency room and made a nervous phone call to Doc. 'Doc, I was in a really bad car accident today. I'm not sure what to do about the race tomorrow.' As only a loving doctor would, he prescribed to his patient, 'Son, the best thing for you to snap out of this is to get you back on your feet and to run that race tomorrow!' Sure enough I met Doc and Katherine at the starting line.
"As he grew closer to 90, I saw less and less of Doc at the races. Driving and his issues with balance had both become major obstacles. The once constant figure at Louisville road races became confined to an assisted living facility. True to form, he continued working out by lifting weights at his new residence. While he couldn't run any longer, Doc still followed my progress as a runner and reveled in the running champions that his grandsons had become - attending George Washington, Furman, and Centre College where all would succeed in track. I know he enjoyed it when his son Mark decided to celebrate his 50th birthday by running 50 miles. Like father, like son!
"The greatest legacy Doc leaves today is the 4-mile race that is now named in his honor. The Grand Slam 4 Miler Run/Walk, now the Dr. Ed Morgan Grand Slam 4 Miler Run/Walk , isheld every summer in Louisville. Doc and I started this race back in 2003. His dream was to see the race grow to be one of the biggest in Kentucky. He used to obsess about how many participants we’d get eachyear. 'Graham, when are we going to get to 500 runners?' Perhaps the proudest moment of our friendship came when we named the race in his honor in 2008. Each year, Doc would wheel down to the finish line in his wheelchair and applaud all of the runners like a proud father. True to Doc's communal spirit, proceeds from the race have sent thousands of dollars to local charities including the Heuser Hearing Institute and Big Brothers/Big Sisters since its inception.
"This year, Doc won't be at the finish line. He passed away on February 7, 2011 at the age of 92. He leaves behind a lasting legacy as a family man, a doctor, a horseman, and last but not least a runner. At his funeral, friends and family gathered to tell numerous stories about Doctor Morgan. Not surprisingly, most concerned running. His son Mark reminisced “about running for hours with Dad while he had an obvious injury and was limping and trying to get him to wait until another day. His response was, 'Dammit, if I waited until I felt good to run, I'd never go. Let’s go!'
"Doc's was the only funeral that I have never been sad for the departed," says Honaker. "He got so many miles out of life, literally. Our friendship was ultimately a testament to the power that running has – a sport that reaches to all generations. It was only acceptable that Dr. Edgar Byron Morgan Sr. be buried with his running shoes on."
One of Doc's children, Tassie, was forever impacted by her father's will to accomplish his goals. "Dad never did anything halfway. He had the best work ethic, most determination, & strongest will I have ever seen! I can't remember how many times he broke a bone or was injured while running, but he never made a big deal about it or let it stop him. In fact, I was very relieved when he started wearing a helmet and knee & elbow pads, because then when he got hit by cars he would kind of bounce off! I used to love when my friends would mention seeing him out running. He was always easy to recognize in his helmet.
"To have started running at 65, run his first marathon at 67, and not quit until he literally couldn't walk anymore, [he] left his family with a great legacy. Dad also left a long line of runners in our family. [There are] three generations of which will be participating in the Grand Slam."
This year, Honaker is hoping to raise the most money he's ever raised for Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Heuser Hearing Institute. If you're interested in supporting this cause and running in the race, visit rivercityraces.com .
Photo courtesy of: Graham Honaker