One of Rochester's own passed away this morning. He was 72.
He may have only run competitively for one season in his time at Aquinas Institute in Rochester, New York, but former Indoor Mile World Record Holder Dick Buerkle catapulted that experience to becoming known as possibly one of the greatest "Walk-ons" in Collegiate History, as well as a two-time Olympian.
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As a Senior at Aquinas, Buerkle would graduate in 1965 with moderate PR's of 4:28 in the mile, and 10:01 in the 2-Mile. He would attend Villanova University, without scholarship or intention of continuing his running career. However, trying out as a walk-on, Buerkle impressed Head Coach Jumbo Elliot and assistant Jim Tuppeny enough for him to join the team. By Junior year, after first breaking 9-mins for the 2-Mile, he achieved his scholarship for his remaining eligibility. He lowered Villanova's school record to 8:46.2 two weeks later.
After graduation, Buerkle hit the work force, relocating to Buffalo, NY where he worked for a distributor of contact lenses. Buerkle still remained training however, and he continued to improve. His training was grass roots, running on the roads during harsh winters, and finding unique ways to train when that became impossible. On January 13th, 1978, Buerkle would head down to the University of Maryland to contest the Indoor Mile against the heavy favorite, Tanzanian Filbert Bayi. In the week run-up to the event, Buerkle was running laps in the hallways of Memorial Stadium in Buffalo, home to the Sabres, and now, he would break the Indoor Mile World Record, running 3:54.93. The race came as a complete shock, highlighted by the fact that his pre-race meal two hours before the race consisted of two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and nine oreos.
Buerkle went on to qualify for two Olympic Games, 1976 and 1980. He finished ninth in the prelims of the 5000m in Montreal, but was unable to compete in Moscow due to the US Boycott. Buerkle was a regular competitor of Steve Prefontaine, and penned a tribute to him in Eugene's Register Guard the day after his passing. Buerkle would eventually relocate to Atlanta, Georgia where he would become a High School Spanish Teacher.