Former world-record holder from Fresno ran across America. ‘Suffering is optional’

Ultra run record holder, runner Richard Rozier of Fresno dies

Richard “Dick” Rozier, a former ultra run world-record holder from Fresno, died at age 88 from Parkinson’s disease. He ran in more than 30 marathons and ultra-marathons, and a coast-to-coast race across America.
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Richard “Dick” Rozier, a former ultra run world-record holder from Fresno, died at age 88 from Parkinson’s disease. He ran in more than 30 marathons and ultra-marathons, and a coast-to-coast race across America.

It was common to hear Richard Rozier telling jokes and chatting away during long runs where others were just struggling to breathe. For Dick, as friends and family knew him, running was as much a social experience as it was a physical one.

“Dick was very light-hearted,” said friend and fellow runner Gerald Alexander. “He took his running seriously but not competitively.”

The longtime Fresnan and “people person” used that attitude to beat a then-world record in his 55-to-59 age group during a 24-hour ultra run in 1989. Sports Illustrated wrote about the accomplishment.

“The world wasn’t waiting impatiently for Rozier – or anyone else – to run 139 miles, 429 yards in 24 hours,” the magazine wrote in 1990. “That he did it is testimony to the indomitability of the athletic spirit.”

Rozier died Feb. 14, 2019 at age 88 in an assisted living center in Clovis. Family believe his athleticism and strong heart helped him live longer than he might have while suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

A celebration of Rozier’s life will be held Friday at a Mormon church in Clovis.

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Dick Rozier running when he was 59 year old. Fresno Bee archive

Sports Illustrated started their story about Rozier by saying that he “may actually be crazy.” Rozier didn’t start running until he was 32, and at a time when running didn’t have the popularity it does today. He was stopped by suspicious police on multiple occasions while running around his Fresno neighborhood.

What started as jogging around town after no longer enjoying handball at his local gym and not wanting to pay a membership fee increase turned into running in more than 30 marathons and ultra-marathons, and almost all of a trans-America foot race. He had to drop out of the coast-to-coast race because of a sprained ankle in Nevada, but rejoined runners in Colorado after a little healing and recovery. He ran alongside the runners for the duration of the 64-day journey east just for fun.

“He had great stamina but more than that, he just had intestinal fortitude,” Alexander said. “He could just keep going and keep going and keep going.”

Rozier told Sports Illustrated about his running: “I think we all operate so far below our capacities, and I think there are still things to be explored. I want to see what I can do, and I feel a lot of satisfaction getting past the pain and accomplishing something. It’s enjoyable, really. It’s half and half, a physical and a psychological contest.

“In 24-hour runs you talk quite a bit to others, and your mind really runs the gamut of things. You think about what you’re doing. You’re constantly taking inventory of how you’re feeling.”

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Richard Rozier running in a 50-mile race in Oregon. Special to The Bee

Rozier, who retired as an insurance agent, had a tough childhood. His mother died when he was 6 years old and living in Fresno. By the time he was in his teens, he was living on the streets of San Francisco.

Later in life, he helped people who were homeless like he once was. His former caregiver, Tom Mendiola, remembers Rozier once handing out between $2,000 and $3,000 in $5, $10 and $20 bills to homeless people in downtown Fresno on Christmas.

His caregiver found a kind of caregiver in Rozier, too – even as Rozier was wheelchair-bound from Parkinson’s disease.

“He didn’t ask for nothing and didn’t want anything,” Mendiola said. “He lived very simply but gave so much – that’s what I can’t believe. He gave me the shirt off his back. He was so nice. I’ll never find anyone like Richard ever again. … Not one time did I see this man upset in six years (of caring for him), not once did he argue or complain.”

Rozier met his first wife, Gaynor, at age 20. They were married seven months later. They joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and had eight children together. After Gaynor died in 2007, Rozier married Susan Call Black, who died on Christmas Eve.

Steve Cleveland, the former Fresno State basketball coach, said he looked up to Rozier for the “values he had in life and commitment to his wife and kids – they always came first, and the running came second.” Cleveland was friends with one of Rozier’s sons in high school.

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Richard Rozier with Elora Heasley, one of his 49 great-grandchildren. ROZIER FAMILY Special to The Bee

Rozier’s children remember him as a family man, known for his integrity, frugality, running, and sense of humor.

Son John Rozier joyfully recalls his “practical joker” dad getting people to touch a trigger on a box that would then catapult a pretend mongoose at people.

Friend and fellow runner Evan “Bingo” Orme said, “Everyone who met him liked him. … We always had a good time and laughed a lot.”

Son Richard Rozier Jr. recalled one of his dad’s favorite quotes, from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do, not that the nature of the thing has changed but that our power to do has increased.”

“He applied it to everything,” his son said. “To spiritual challenges, to work, to physical activity.”

Rozier once told Sports Illustrated this about his long runs: “There’s a saying that pain is inevitable and suffering is optional. You know you are going to hurt during one of these events. But I don’t mind. It’s an inner sport, I guess.”

Richard “Dick” Curtis Rozier

Born: May 30, 1930

Died: Feb. 14, 2019

Residence: Clovis

Occupation: Retired insurance agent

Survivors: Children Richard Rozier, Jill Shelley, John Rozier, Robin Shepard, Peggy Kennington, Scott Rozier, and Heidi Rozier; 29 grandchildren; and 49 great-grandchildren.

Celebration of life: 10 a.m. Friday, March 1 viewing at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1880 Gettysburg Ave., Clovis, followed by an 11 a.m. funeral at the same location.

Carmen George is a features and news reporter for The Fresno Bee. Her stories have been recognized with Best of the West, George F. Gruner, and McClatchy President’s awards, and nine first or second place awards from the California News Publishers Association. She has a passion for sharing people’s stories to highlight issues and promote greater understanding.