“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.
Some people marvel when they hear the story about how Greg Grace once fell in the first few yards of a marathon, suffered what was ultimately diagnosed as a fractured wrist, but went on to complete the final 26 miles.
Others, those who knew him well, simply nod and think, “well, that’s Greg all right.’’
Life threw a lot more adversity at the longtime Washington Crossing resident than just a broken body part but this giant of a man pushed through what Dr. King alluded to as “times of challenge’’ with the courage of a lion.
A 17-year battle with Parkinson’s Disease may have compromised his abilities as a runner but never his dignity.
Ultimately, when the tribulation finally ended with his passing on July 2 at age 65, Grace’s legacy was already firmly secured in the Bucks County running movement and beyond.
As a past president of the Bucks County Roadrunners Club, Grace had forged many friendships and relationships. But the magnetism of his compelling personality reached far beyond those.
His towering 6-foot-7 presence, his somewhat quiet, understated demeanor, his subtle wit all combined to make him a shining beacon to which all could aspire.
“He loved to run and he thought everybody – if they want to run – should be encouraged,’’ said his wife Emily in a recent interview. “No matter whether they were really fast runners or whether they were just beginners. He just felt it was something everyone should be able to do.’’
Grace completed more than 30 marathons and took pride in that accomplishment. But much of his time was spent encouraging others to be their very best.
“It (BCRR) is such a great group of people,’’ said Emily, an accomplished runner herself. “He brought so many people into the club that way; some people who were never runners before. He was the one who kind of pulled them into it.’’
Even as the horrific health malady eroded his skills, Greg continued to push on. He competed in races and drew well-wishes from just about everyone who knew his name.
“He was kind of a legend,’’ Emily said with a chuckle. “There was the story of the Wineglass Marathon (upstate New York) where he was tripped at the start, broke his wrist and completed the marathon anyway. I think that’s a story that made him a legend.
“This is what he loved to do. It was his favorite sport. He wanted to do it so bad that everything he did, once he got diagnosed was that he could do as much as possible. He could run for quite a few years and it got where it became too difficult. People would see him struggling but he would do his best to finish the race. They really did admire that. They were always there if he needed help.’’
Each year after the July 4 Revolutionary Run, the Graces host a post-race party and Greg was always there to greet runners with a smile and a handshake. They were quite familiar with the popular family pool.
Back in May, 2018, Greg suffered a broken hip and had to go through a long, somewhat painful rehab process.
Many of Greg’s friends, including close pal Dr. Johnny King-Marino (current BCRR president) came to visit. On one such visit, everyone jumped in the pool to bolster Greg in the water.
“They would care about each other,’’ said Emily. “He couldn’t run anymore, had a hard time walking but everyone was there to support him. I would take him to events where he would have trouble walking but someone would always be there on the other side to help him get where he needed to go.
“I’m very blessed to be in this community.’’
A number of Greg’s closest friends offered their thoughts on what he meant to them.
Retired Doylestown Township police chief Steve White recalls Greg’s dry humor.
“About 15 years ago, we were running the Cornerstone 5K,’’ White said, “and in the last mile I came up on Greg who was running with some type of injury so he was back with us. As I passed him, I sang out ‘Steve White’s passing Greg Grace!’ As I turned to look back at him, I stepped into a pothole and almost stumbled to the ground. As Greg passed me, he sang out ‘Greg Grace can move potholes!’
“Greg’s humor, friendship and leadership helped make the Roadrunners Club so wonderfully successful. For such a large man, he was an unbelievably fast runner, but his true gift was his personality. I will always be grateful for knowing Greg.’’
In addition to completing the Boston Marathon several times, Grace also was instrumental in organizing the River to Sea Relay (Delaware River to Jersey Shore) 91-mile race.
BCRR Winter Series director Janet Lewis appreciated the way Grace comported himself even after the Parkinson’s diagnosis.
“Greg had such a sense of humor that he carried, even as his Parkinson’s progressed,’’ Lewis recalled. “He never let an opportunity to rib me go by. He particularly liked to make fun of my small feet (making me line them up next to his gigantic ones!)
“I also appreciated that even as his running came to an end, he never, ever stopped supporting the running community. He would still come to the Winter Series, when I was the director, and hang the banner over the boathouse for me every week, as he was the only one who could reach that high. He would still go to whatever races he could, and cheer everyone else on. I can only imagine how difficult that was, knowing what kind of runner he had been in his prime, to watch others continue to run when he couldn’t, but he was still there.’’
Sharon Schanbacker and her husband, Steve, spend time offering their help to other runners and appreciate what Grace meant to the community.
“I remember Greg’s very tall running presence strongly making his way to the head of the pack,’’ Sharon said. “As the years progressed, I remember how strong and positive Emily was as she made certain Greg could be at the events.
“Greg left us too soon but his strong supportive running spirit continues to embrace the Bucks County running community. Greg was always encouraging, welcoming and kind with a thumbs up and a smile. In recent years, Emily had him seated at the finish line where he gave the ‘thumbs up’ to finishers.’’
Rich Kanak knew Grace well enough to confide with him and trust his counsel.
“I once visited Greg in the hospital after a fall and it was when I was thinking about running for an officer’s position in the running club,’’ Kanak said. “I asked Greg if he had any advice. His reply: ‘Don’t get anyone ticked off!’ ’’
John O’Brien would crack up at some of Grace’s antics. Like when he would do the Rev Run and go past the Grace’s residence situated along the course.
“At the Rev Run when he was no longer running, he would always be out on his front yard with a hose to help cool off the runners,’’ O’Brien said. “And somehow he always got me in the face. Then he would apologize for ‘accidentally’ getting me in the face when we got together post-race at his house for the barbecue.’’
Fellow BCRR officer Eric Stern admired Grace’s welcoming persona.
“Greg epitomized everything that this club is about from a mutual love of running, being able to socialize with others and developing life long friendships,’’ Stern said. “His passing is a great loss for the Bucks County running community and he will be greatly missed.’’
Grace impressed highly accomplished runners such as Mike Gross with his drive in his later years.
“No one was more of a fighter than Greg,’’ Gross said. “I have never seen anyone work as hard in a marathon than Greg pushing through his Parkinson’s and working for 26.2 miles. He never gave up. I so admired him for that toughness.’’
Upon learning of Grace’s passing, many runners dedicated their run that day to his honor.
“Today we honored Greg,’’ King-Marino said. “Knowing full well the honor was ours. We run on in his memory.’’
Grace’s legacy will exist for generations to come.
“You can tell by how many people did a run for Greg the kind of impact he had on BCRR and the running community,’’ Gross said. “He will not only be missed but his influence on our club will live on and through that so will Greg.’’
In lieu of flowers, donations in Greg’s memory to the Parkinson Alliance (parkinsonalliance.org) would be appreciated.