Several posts ago, I wrote about people who are mentors. There are also folks who fall into a slightly different category and they are what I call Lifechangers. I was at a birthday party last night for one of them and his name is Hot Harry Kirsch. Harry turns 90 this week and it has been my distinct pleasure to know him. Mary Jo Neff got up last night after organizing the affair and eloquently told the assmebled crowd how much Harry has influenced all of our lives by starting and running the Hot Harry’s North Park Runners. There are people like Harry who influence us and in many ways facilitate a life change.
I first met Harry when I started running at North Park during the running boom of the 80s. I had quit tennis and was looking for a change when I saw a group run by the tennis court and I said to myself that I was going to start running. I became passionate about it and ventured into the Stone Field parking lot and one of the first guys I met was Hot Harry. He was very friendly and introduced me to some folks and invited me to have a drink out of some jugs from his open trunk. I soon found out that Harry always left his trunk open to his car and anyone who ran from Stone Field was welcome to a drink from Harry’s stash. Harry also told me about his loosely organized club and soon I was wearing the shorts and singlet in the races indicating that I was a member of Hot Harry’s North Park Runners. I was actually very proud to wear that garb and be part of the whole North Park running scene.
Harry organized a bus to go to the Marine Corps Marathon every year. He was fond of the marathon because he was a Marine.He always organized picnics at his farm in Evans City,Pa and soon the group swelled to very large proportions including family and friends of the North Park Runners. Harry has an infectious positive atttude and a smile for everyone who comes his way. There have been a lot of folks who have come to the park in a similar fashion as me and have sheepishly tried to start to walk, run, or jog to make a change in their lives. You get to the point sometimes in your life when you realize that your health and mental well being are more important than any job. Everyone has stress in their lives and exercise is a great antidote to those daily pressures which can consume our lives. Harry made sure that everyone who was new had someone to run with and if no one was available, he ran with them himself. Harry loves the park and as a retired bus driver whose wife had passed away, the park was a good way for him to reconnect with people and soon his running prowess and enthusiasm for the sport got him a lot of notoriety in the local papers. I believe that Harry has 50+ marathons to his credit including countless Boston and Marine Corps Marathons.
I had the pleasure of running in Boston with Harry and his group and was amazed at how well Harry knew the drill up there with the accomodations, the food, the travel arrangements, the expo, and all with only a small duffel bag containing a spare set of running shorts, another singlet, and a toothbrush. Harry traveled light. He loved the marathon up there and took me under his wing as a rookie and I will never forget his wisdom, humor and friendship. Four of us crashed in one room and Harry snored like a chainsaw, but we didn’t care. We were having too much fun. No hot water in the hotel after the race,the elevator was down, but Harry and his sense of humor had us all laughing through an uncomfortable end to a great run.
Harry and the North Park crew changed my life for sure. Even though I eventually gravitated to road cycling and mountain biking, I still run on trails in the winter and on nasty weather days. Running is still in my veins thanks to Harry and the wonderful people of North Park. They say that you get an endorphin high from running but I am not sure if it is more the chemical high or the psychological high that you have completed a healthy activity for the day and you did it with friends. The comraderie of the running crowd cannot be matched. I see folks from all over the country running in groups. The exercise and the lively conversations are indigenous to running clubs and if you have not had the chance to join a running, cycling, skiing, hiking, outdoors club, go do it. Chances are you will meet fun folks who will hold you accountable to join them on a daily or several times a week basis. You will be fortunate if you ever meet a guy like Hot Harry. He is one in a million and if you ever see the car with the open trunk, help yourself and allow yourself to meet one of the all time greats. Thanks for reading.