The Greatest at “Greater Boston”

July 1, 2022 — It was late last evening when I saw a post at Facebook that Coach Bill Squires had passed away. Bob Hodgie-san forwarded me a message last week that Coach was not doing well and some of the close circle of friends were putting together encouraging messages. I shared that message to some people, including Bill Rodgers. Naturally I heard the name, Coach Bill Squires, attached to Bill Rodgers. Rodgers was my high school running hero since he won 1975 Boston Marathon with the American record of 2:09:55 in a pair of T-shirts with hand-written “GBTC” (Greater Boston Track Club), breaking the previous US record of 2:10:30 set by another hero of mine, Frank Shorter, . And often I spotted this tall fatherly figure with beautiful silver hair with Rodgers. He was the man behind the success of GBTC, Bill Squires, fondly known as simply “Coach”.

During the mid-1970s and early 1980s, many great marathon runners came from New England area — Rodgers, Bob Hodge, Greg Meyer, Pete Pfitzinger…and a young runner who trained with this elite group who later moved to the other side of the US, Alberto Salazar. There was also another man who trained with this group and moved to Oregon and excelled as a coach, Bob Sevene who later coached Joan Benoit. They were all directly coached by, or came under great influence of, Coach Squires. With the Lydiard influence, I was always frustrated in the US that “coaches” were often neglected. It was a bit surprising to see an article about Coach Squires in a running magazine — I believe it was “Running Times” — in the late 1990s and it was written by a fellow Minnesotan, Jim Ferstle. Later, I had the opportunity to go to Boston for my work; so I contacted Jim and asked the contact information of Coach Squires. I still remember vividly the first exchange with the Coach: “It is an honor to meet you!” “Not at all,” he replied, “you have already met God!!” He was referring to Arthur Lydiard. It was around 5PM, after the adhesive seminar I was supposed to attend (for my work) and I drove over to his house. That was pre-GPS time and Coach’s direction was not too helpful. “When you see Dunkin’ Donut, turn left up the hill…”!! I was a bit surprised to see this tall guy with almost bold head. We went for dinner and we talked, talked…, and talked. Later that evening, he told me he had some heart problem. “A big chunk of my heart is scar tissue,” he told me. “I must have had a heart attack at one point and didn’t even know it…”. As we walked out to the parking lot, I said that I thought he had a cancer or something like that. “What made you think that?” Coach asked. “Well, whenever I saw your photo, you had well-combed silver hair…”. All of a sudden, he looked very embarrassed. “Well, I wear a wig…”. That explains!!

Anybody who sat down and talked with Coach Squires would understand — we stayed up and talked until 3AM. He was wealth of knowledge with running. It wasn’t just training and record; he knew so much of athletes’ personal lives — good and not-so-good!! “Someday, I should write a book titled ‘Gossips of Track & Field’…!!” Since then, every chance I got to come to Boston, I visited Coach Squires. Every spring, when I came to the Boston Marathon, he would come to the city and stayed at John Hancock building and he let me stay at his house in Melrose. “Just leave the window slightly open and let ‘Flash’ (his cat) come in and out…”. It became customary to me to take an Orange Line train to Melrose and drag my suitcase along not-so-smooth sidewalk up the hill to Coach’s house. A fond memory!! He introduced me to everybody in Boston because he knew everybody!! Every time I visited him, we talked and talked and talked about, not only training, but different topics as well. One of my fondest memories of the Coach is when we were watching TV and saw a trailer for the movie, “The Perfect Storm”. It looked very interesting and I said I wanted to see it. “That happened not too far from here,” Coach explained. I didn’t know anything about it. He told me the story right there and then in quite detail. “And they all died,” he said!! Spoiler alert!!

In one corner of his house had literally a pile of (it just did not look like it’s well-organized!!) running treasures!! Coach called it a “shrine’. There was a post card from Lasse Viren; an autographed photo of Coach and Allan Webb; autographed book from Salazar; autographed shoes from Rodgers…. There was also a picture of Coach and me in a frame. I felt quite honored!! That was the pic of us when he broke his arm. He was running around a near-by cemetery and this kid on a bike ran into him and knocked him down. He looked embarrassed and, in this pic, he was almost trying to cover his arm in a cast. I remember that incidence; as usual, we just talked and talked…and later in the evening, he complained his arm throbbed. He showed me his broken arm in a cast and it was purple!! We tried to cut the edge of the cast to release pressure and that didn’t help much. We were both concerned and we called the hospital down the hill and made an emergency visit. This pretty young nurse came in with a smile. “You were holding your arm too low,” she said. “You have to keep your elbow minimum at 90 degrees…”. And she simply lifted his arm a bit higher. That was it!! Later at that shrine, I noticed a bronze statue of other friend of mine — Bill Bowerman. It was the Bill Bowerman Award.

Coach Squires was truly a “giver”. I used to come and stayed at his house. He was kind enough to open his place for me. Yet, he always gave me a small gift. Again, he always seemed embarrassed. He would wrap it in a plastic shopping bag — it could be a small silver cup; it could be old GBTC T-shirts; it could be Boston Marathon T-shirts from a few years back…. Lydiard said coaching means you give a part of your life to the athletes. Coach Squires was, in that respect, truly a coach. One of my favorite Coach Squires stories is that of him and young up-and-coming runner from Minnesota, Dick Beardsley. It was at Falmouth road race, as with most of elite runners back in the days, they were just gathering together at someone’s house, no royal treatment. Dick was sleeping on a coach. In the middle of the night, Coach wondered around and spotted Dick on a couch. “What are you doing!? You have a race to run tomorrow; take my bed!!” He insisted Dick take his bed. Later on, when Dick got up for the bathroom. He found Coach sleeping in a bathtub!! I received an envelope from Coach Squires once in a while — he would hand-ripped some newspaper article about Japan and gather them together and send them to me. I always enjoyed calling him and just chat about anything. When he answered, he would fondly call me “Downtown Tokyo!!” and he would yap and yap and yap endlessly. Sadly, I could see him slowing down since a few years back. The last time I talked to him was earlier this year. Usually he would talk over an hour but, for this occasion, he was running out of steam after about 15-minutes. I was thinking about calling him on the Father’s Day — I should have. Another regret in life. He was such a great man. I will always have a special spot for Coach Squires in my heart. Rest In Peace, Coach! We love you. — Nobby Hashizume

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