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“They tell me that I inspire ‘em. That’s their opinion, and I guess maybe I do, some of them. The runners inspire me, just watching what they do. It’s pretty awesome, actually.”
—Bill Dooper, “Salomon Running TV, Season 4, Episode 1”
If you’re an ultrarunner and you believe in angels, you might just hear Bill Dooper’s voice cheering you from the heavens this summer.
Dooper, ultrarunning’s well-known and boundlessly enthusiastic super fan of the past 30 years, passed away on April 4 in Littleton, Colorado, from complications due to a major stroke a few days earlier. In his final days and hours, hundreds of people within the ultrarunning community shared notes and thoughts for him via social media that were then read to him in his hospital room.
To say the 83-year-old longtime Leadville resident was a fixture at Colorado trail and ultrarunning races puts it way too lightly. While not an ultra-race participant himself, Dooper was ever-present at ultramarathons, trail races and even pack-burro races throughout the summer and fall in Colorado. He spectated and cheered on runners at every single Leadville 100 from 1988 to 2017 and every Hardrock 100 from 1989 through last summer—there probably isn’t a single other individual who can claim such a feat. He was also typically on scene at the Collegiate Peaks trail races in Buena Vista, Colorado, the Run Rabbit Run races in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and dozens of others.
Anyone who spent time in Leadville during the summer months—whether training or racing or just hanging out—likely interacted with Dooper in some way. He was friendly to everyone, always offering a charismatic smile, a welcoming handshake or a friendly “hello” to just about anyone he’d make eye contact with.
Now, a day after his passing, when the magnitude of his loss is just starting to sink in, just about everyone connected to the ultrarunning world is sharing memories and words of gratitude.
“Rest In Peace, Bill Dooper. You will be dearly missed my friend,” said the accomplished ultrarunner Joe Grant of Gold Hill, Colorado, in a social-media post hours after Dooper passed.
“Bill, thank you for showing me what true passion and compassion for others is,” said the Hardrock 100 race director Dale Garland. “I have learned so much from you over the years that I will carry with me always.”
“I’ve had the honor of knowing Bill Dooper for several years now, one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet in the ultra community,” said the race photographer Paul Nelson. “Bill and I would hang out at the Run Rabbit Run finish line, me capturing pictures of the finishers and Bill welcoming them back. Run Rabbit Run will not be the same without him.”
But he was more than just a spectator or a fan, he was a true supporter of every runner willing to toe the starting line, no matter where they placed in a race or if they finished, and was a genuine friend to many people close to the sport. He personally wished runners well prior to races. He also kept track of victories, injuries and DNFs like a volunteer coach. He even kept notes and memorized stats of key athletes in the big races and set odds as to who he thought would win.
Although he never ran an ultra, Dooper became a fan of the sport while living in Leadville in the late 1980s. He had been a trail runner until his mid-70s, and he was still as fit as a man half his age until he suffered a partial stroke at age 80. Even then, he would often hike and walk 30 to 50 miles in a week at or above the lofty 10,200-foot elevation of Leadville and was also known to do dumbbell curls to stay fit.
Although the only results listed under his name on UltraSignup are his respectable finishes at the 2009 and 2010 Sage Burner 25K Trail Race in Gunnison, Colorado, Dooper was always full of vigor and looked like he could still bust out a 10K on the trails into his early 80s.
“I’m heartbroken that the world has lost such a good human being and, selfishly, that I’ve lost one of my best friends,” irunfar.com editor-in-chief Bryon Powell wrote in a touching essay. “I am not alone in feeling this way. However, just as I’ve been able to recognize that Bill did see the love so many of us had for him during his life, I’m beginning to realize both that so many of us will carry Bill with us for the rest of our lives and that we are better people for having known him.”
Even though he lived a simple life in Leadville and wasn’t shy about connecting with people, not a lot is known about Dooper’s past. Prior to living in Leadville for more than 20 years, he had spent time in Silverthorne, where he had been employed as a shuttle driver for a while. Little is known about his family, except that he had a brother who lived in another state and that he never had any children.
Dooper had been rehabbing from a minor stroke at a facility in the Denver suburbs since October. In his final days earlier this week, nurses had set up an aid station of sorts in his hospital room to accommodate all of the well-wishers who stopped by. He could no longer speak, but he was able to acknowledge the notes and letters being read to him via facial expressions and the simple squeeze of his hand.
“He didn’t hide his past at all; it’s just that he was so psyched to talk about what was going on right now,” Powell says. “He was a simple guy, but he would give you the jacket off his back or the other half of his sandwich at lunch.
“He was always just so full of joy, but it was never a shtick. It was always so authentic,” Powell continues. “I would love to live to my late 70s or early 80s and be active out on the trails like he was and spreading the joy that he did on a daily basis. In the end, it was nice to know the joy and friendship he had for the ultrarunning community came back to him from that same community.”
As the Colorado trail-running scene gets underway this summer, no doubt Dooper will be looking down from the heavens, cheering runners by name, high-fiving his friends or just giving two thumbs up to runners whom he hasn’t yet met.
(If you don’t know who Dooper is or you’re just missing him, be sure to watch the Salomon TV episode that profiled him three years ago. It captures his genuine passion, authenticity, humility and zeal for the sport, community and just about everyone he met.)