Story by Ralph Epifanio
Earlier this year, I attended the funeral of an old friend, Pat Petersen. Although almost exactly ten years younger than me—with athletic abilities light years ahead—we were both products of that golden age of running which occurred (roughly) from the late-1970s to the early 90s. This was before running became the professional, corporate-sponsored, ego-centric, elitist sport of today. In those days, we “raced with the stars.” Our heroes met on Wednesday evenings at the high school track for speed work, and on Sunday mornings at the local running store for long runs.
Driving back to Long Island for the first time in over a decade, my return evoked memories of younger days and faster times. Most of all, it brought me back to the people who were my inspiration to start a regional running magazine, Islandwide Runner, and sponsor over 300 races.
Many of those same people gathered with me to honor Pat and his family. In an unprecedented outpouring of respect, his two viewings—one in the afternoon of June 3rd and the second that evening—produced, between them, a continuous, five hour line of mourners. The next day, Islip’s St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church was filled to capacity for the funeral service; afterwards, a caravan of cars followed Pat to his final rest in Queen of All Saints Cemetery in Central Islip.
To the readers of this memorial, Pat will be remembered, above all, as the consummate competitor. His long time Warren Street teammate and close friend, Paul Fetscher, describes Petersen as he knew him.
"Simply put, Pat was clearly the very best distance runner to come out of New York (city or state), but especially Long Island. I can't name any other runner who broke 25:00 at Van Cortlandt Park so many times. There were people who worked with him and knew two of his biggest passions, Elvis and the N.Y. Yankees, because he could expound on them for hours. But at the funeral, there were discussions with lots of folks who knew him for years, and yet were not aware of his running accomplishments. He was that modest. He had an unorthodox form, but managed to get from point A to point B with more courage and speed than anyone I knew."
Born on December 3, 1959 in Rockville Centre, Long Island, Patrick James Petersen spent his early life (first) in Oceanside, and then Islip, where he attended high school from 1973-1977. His college years were split between SUNY Farmingdale (1978-1980) and Manhattan College in New York City (1980-1982), where he left numerous records to challenge those who followed in his footsteps.
Those under the age of 30 may not place the name, but his best times will bring you up to date: 4:06 in the mile; 7:51 (indoors) for 3000; 8:43 for the two mile; 13:42 (indoors) for 5K; 18:57 for four miles; 22:44 for five miles; 28:19 for 10K (on the track); 48:46 for a ten miler; 1:03:56 for a half-marathon; and 2:10:04 in the marathon. That last time, when he ran it, was recognized as the American record for that race. In that respect, the words of his friend and long-time coach, Tracy Sundlun, ring truest.
“Pat Petersen had character. He wasn’t full of himself. When he set that American Record, he worked all day at Grumman, got on a plane, landed in London…ran 2:10:04 the next day, and got back on a plane and was back at work on Monday.”
Pat Petersen certainly had style, but not grace. Watching him run could exhaust you, especially if you were running behind him. Like an emerging teen, he seemed all elbows and knees when he ran, but did so like a machine on aviation fuel. The top rocked back and forth, almost—but not quite—off-setting the piston-like motion of his legs. Even on the rare occasion when he wasn’t leading, his form stood out from the field.
While in high school, Petersen was among the foremost of that greatest generation of high school runners, those bursting forth in the late 1970s. Running against Pat were the likes of John Gregorek (NYS champion in XC and track, still its current 2000 meter steeplechase record holder (5:47.1), former NYS two mile record holder at 8:50.7, and two-time Olympian); Otis Sanders (the Nassau County Champion), whom Gregorek met in a race of undefeated champions in the fall, 1977 Federation Meet, and produced Gregorek's seemingly unbeatable Sunken Meadow 15:32.3 5K CR, (finally falling to "King Edward" Cheserek's 15:20.9 in the 2011 Footlocker NE Regional), and the Whitney Brothers, et al., who--nearly 40 years later--still rank among the greatest distance runners in New York State history.
In his senior year (1977-78), Petersen finished third in the county (15:15 for three miles at Sunken Meadow, one of the hilliest courses in New York), and tenth in the state (15:22, also for three miles) in cross country. That spring, he was third at two miles on the county level (9:23) and sixth in NYS (9:17). But the best was yet to come.
While at SUNY Farmingdale, Pat was a six time Junior College All-American. In cross country, he was the 1978 and 1979 NYSJC Champion (26:00 and 24:44, respectively), placing 18th in the nation his first year (24:56) and seventh his second (25:02). On the track, in 1979 he was state champion in both the 5K (14:48) and 10K (30:57). Thirty-six years later, he still holds three school records at Farmingdale: 13:57 in the indoor three mile, 14:31.6 in the indoor 5K, and 14:16.9 in the outdoor 5K. He is also listed second best in four events (3:58.7 in the 1500, 4:14.3 in the mile, 8:27.7 in the 3000, and 9:07 in the two mile); third best in the outdoor 10K (30:57.2); fourth in the 1500 (3:56.5); and sixth in the 800 (2:01.44). There are no indications whether these indoor times were run on the Farmingdale track, but if so they are even more impressive, as that track is 11 laps to the mile.
Moving on to Manhattan College, Pat ran an even tougher cross country course: that of the infamous trails of Van Cortlandt Park. There, in two seasons—the falls of 1980 and 1981--he ran ten sub-25 minute times for five miles, with a best of 24:19 in the November 2, 1981 IC4A Championship, placing fifth.
One of the runners familiar with the Van Cortlandt of that era made the observation that "It is a lot better groomed now than it was back then. They had all those rocks and boulders to make it really tough."
That year, 1981, Pat won the Metropolitan Athletic Association Conference Championship with his 24:48, and placed second in the NCAA Division 1, District 2 Meet (29:54).
In indoor track, Pat won the 1980-81 IC4A 5000 meter championship in 14:05, a school record, and finished second in the METS 3000 (8:11). During the 1981-82 season, he was second in the IC4A 5000 (14:11) and fourth in the METS 3000 (8:14).
Outdoor track produced titles in the METS 5K in 1981 (13:58) and 1982 (14:16), a fifth in the 1981 IC4As (14:20) and 2nd in the 1982 IC4A 10,000 (29:01). That year, he also set the school 10,000 record at the Penn Relays: 28:38.
Upon graduation from Manhattan College, Pat half-convinced himself that “it was over,” but a full time job at the Super Runner shop in Huntington placed him in the company of some of the best runners on Long Island, including owner Gary Muhrcke, who won the first New York City Marathon (2:31:38; that was 1970, when the race was run entirely in Central Park). In no small part it was Muhrcke’s influence—and the camaraderie of his co-workers, all of whom epitomized their store’s image as being “Super Runners” themselves—that encouraged Petersen to continue his running career.
The Super Runner team's philosophy was as much a lifestyle as it was a job. Its members included Gary, Pat, Pat's long-time friend Paul Nugent, Alan Oman, Chris Webber, Peter McNeill, Neil McLoughlin, Steve Conroy, Pat Gubbins, and Mark Bossardet.
Mark Bossardet explains it this way: "We were all into the roads. Back in the 80s that's what we did. We were part of something; we were a cult."
"I think we all had an influence (on Pat)," Muhrcke added. "We had a bunch of guys that ran a lot of distance. When he worked for us it was a ritual: when the doors (to the running store) closed at 6:00 PM, we all went for a run together. That made it easy to stay in shape. That was the reason I supported the team.
"At first, Pat seemed reluctant to put in the mileage, and fought it. I think we might even have given him a hard time. Eventually, he came around and we were able to encourage him to increase his mileage."
If anyone on the team was committed to heavy mileage, it was Mark Bossardet. He had much to say about Pat's initial participation in LSD training.
"We had to convince Pat to join us on our longer runs and start training for marathons. We logged a lot of miles on Sundays. That first time, he came to my house and Paul (Nugent) and I took him on a 20 mile run. At 12 or 13 miles, Pat was walking, so Paul and I went back and got him, convincing him to go on. We went another mile or so and he stopped. Paul and I looked at each other as if to say, 'No way he is going to finish New York.'
"The next week, we decided to do 25. We took him out where he couldn't turn around and go back. There were no short cuts.
"We were doing sub-sixes, and at around 17 miles Pat asked how far we were running. It seemedthat he just couldn't master the long runs. So Paul and I decided, again, that there was no way he was going to finish New York.
"But then, come November, Pat led all of us most of the way and finished (first among us) in 2:12!"
Alan Oman concurred in that assessment.
"He was a little hesitant about continuing his running," Al remembers. "He told me that if he wasn't going to be any good at it, there was no reason continuing it. Working that day job and training as hard as he did was difficult. But then he started getting better, and he stayed with it."
At first, however, indications were that his heart wasn't quite in it....
Alan: "I felt that he never killed himself training; he never seemed to over train."
...but bit by bit, Pat showed glimpses of what he was capable of.
"We had this one loop of about 11 miles that we called the roller coaster. We would run hard up one hill, and then take it easy on the downhill. He was usually kind of mellow on long runs, but on one of those workouts he kind of got angry about something and picked it up to a five minute pace. I think he ended up finishing that11 miles in under an hour.
"He knew what he had to do and he just did it. He knew what he was doing, and coached himself, one of the few guys I ran with who could coach himself. He knew his body, and he had a lot of self-confidence. I was impressed."
Alan, taller than Pat by maybe an inch, remembers another workout.
"We always felt that his legs were longer than they should be. We were running in the snow one winter, and I was behind him. As he was making footprints in the snow, I tried to stay with him by running in those footprints. I just couldn't do it. His stride lengths were so much longer than mine, or (that of) any of us.
"That's what sets the elite guys apart; their stride length."
That mileage quickly earned dividends. In the fall of 1983, Pat finished the New York Marathon, one of the largest and most prestigious in the world, in that spectacular 2:12:06, coming in twelfth. Keep in mind that he was then only 23 years old, and the distance--26.2 miles--is known as being the home turf of much older--late 20s and older-- distance runners.
In the spring of 1984, Pat reset his personal best in the (track) 10,000, running a 28:19 at the April Penn Relays. That earned him entry into that year’s Olympic Trials.
"His (Pat's) brother went out with him," Muhrcke told me. "I went out to watch. One of our guys had a shot at making the team, and I went to support him. I was a fan."
In the trials, Petersen ran a third heat time of 28:36.20, earning a spot in the finals. In the finals, however, the oppressive June heat of Los Angeles slowed him to a 17th place finish of 29:52.2, and he failed to qualify.
Alan Oman: "Pat told me that he ran the race of his life to make the finals, and that's what he wanted to do."
Pat's true athletic talent, however, was pushing him towards the marathon.
Alan: "Although Pat told me that he didn't want to run the marathon--'I want to run the track,' he said--we all thought he had a better shot (making the Olympic team) in the marathon."
Mark: "I think he made the decision (to move up to 26.2 miles) because his track time wasn't good enough, but his stamina was such that he could move up."
Gradually, Petersen increased his mileage, even running twice a day, and as much as 100 miles a week, quickly blossoming into one of America’s top runners at that distance.
Mark: “Pat thrived on repeat miles, five or six times. His times came down to 4:20 per mile. It was then that we knew his strength would be the marathon."
Getting a job as an analyst on Wall Street, Pat assimilated into everyman’s version of a full-time worker/part-time runner, but maintained a national-class success. Joining the Warren Street Social & Athletic Club, he continued to improve under the tutelage of its coach, Tracy Sundlun. More recently, Sundlun was manager of the U.S. Pan American Games Track and Field team, and will also serve in that capacity for the U.S. Olympic Team in 2016.
Tracy, whose career included coaching at Georgetown, the University of Colorado (where he coached Dana Slater and Mary Decker), and USC, made the move to New York City to cover the 1980 Olympics for television. Unfortunately, America's participation in that Olympiad, which was to be staged in Russia, was "Carterized" due to our leader's response to Russia's involvement in Afghanistan. Sundlun, subsequently, stayed in New York. Russia boycotted Los Angeles in '84, pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989, and America took their place in the Middle East in response to 9/11. Meanwhile, Tracy Sundlun's presence in New York during that time changed the image of "amateur" running forever.
"We wound up taking a bunch of our Warren Street runners to the Jordache Atlantic City (NJ) Marathon, which was the first race that had ‘above the table’ prize money, and they won a total of $22,000 because very few people showed up!”
According to Running Times, in a 1980 article by Phil Stewart:
"1980 brought to a head the clash between the sport's National Governing Body, The Athletics Congress (TAC, now known as USATF), and the athletes. TAC wished to retain strict amateurism, while the athletes, who had organized themselves into the Association of Road Racing Athletes (ARRA), wanted to have prize money and appearance payments, which were often paid under the table at the time, brought out into the open and legitimized.
"The 'run for the money' was anathema to The Athletics Congress (TAC), which is charged with the task of upholding amateur rules laid down by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF). The race went off at a time when TAC had been working on a scheme which--paradoxically--enables it to pay runners while still preserving the amateur laws which form the basis of its control over long distance running. Atlantic City abruptly upstaged its planned 'club system,' which features direct payments to the runners' clubs (with the obvious implication that the money would go on to the runners after being 'laundered' by the clubs)."
Sundlun's broadside was the first shot landed in sinking the "USS Shamatuerism," while giving America's elite runners an early Christmas present.
"That was the first race that had above-the-table prize money. My folks--which included Hugh Sweeny and Paul Fetscher (who finished fourth and fifth in the men’s race), and Katie Mc Donald and Isabelle Carmichael (who went one-two in the women’s race), all of them in over 3 hours--won about 50% of the money.
"The AAU tried to ban them. I got mad at the way it was being handled and the hypocrisy of it all, given that we provided evidence that the majority of America’s (and the world’s) best athletes were being paid under the table, AND that the AAU itself participated in this! I viewed it (the AAU’s stand) as unrealistic, and being neither honest, nor athlete-friendly, so I decided to take over the local leadership of TAC and do it my way. I got involved with the MAC (the New York-City based Metropolitan Athletics Congress) and did my best to change the rules."
In the years to follow, Pat Petersen became a major recipient of that newly freed prize money, earning a lifetime total of over $87,000.
For Tracy, now president of MAC, this leadership of MAC became a full-time job.
Tracy injected his own Warren Street Social & Athletic Club with what was (beginning in 1980), a dose of modernized coaching techniques. He explained his strategy to me.
"We were the only group that was approaching marathon running and road racing with an emphasis on improving athletes’ speed and athleticism, training them like I did my college track teams. We had all of our marathoners doing jumping drills and running track, thus doing things considerably different from everyone else. I also started Warren Street’s women’s team, open to anyone who wanted to show up.”
Bear in mind that women's long distance running was just then beginning to take off. Women had only been competing (officially) in Boston since 1966 and NYC since 1971. Joan Benoit Samuelson's historic victory in Los Angeles (2:24:52), in the first-ever Olympic women's marathon, was still four years away. An historic note: this came despite her having had arthroscopic knee surgery only 17 days before the American Olympic trials.
"We had great success, particularly on the ladies' side," Tracy remembered. "We had loads of qualifiers for the 1980 and 1984 marathons. At Boston, our women's team set a team world marathon record. We had several women in under 2:40, which back then was really flying."
In the midst of all this turbulence in New York City, and for that matter, running in the USA, Pat Petersen arrived on the scene.
"It was perfectly natural for people to seek me out. I don't remember how, or when, but we talked about him joining us for workouts. We had a conversation, and I remember telling him that he could run a marathon in 2:10. He said, 'No; no way I can do that.'
"I explained it as logically as I could: 'Well, it's only two 1:05 half marathons, and you can do that (he ran a 1:03)....It's only four 10Ks at 31:30, and you've run 28s...it's eight 5Ks at 18:15:45 and you've run 13:45....' Each time he'd come back with 'But I can't.' When I got to 104 quarters at 75 seconds he said, 'Oh, my God, I can't run THAT slow,' and that's what helped him grasp it, put his head around it and be able to fight those demons when they began to scream in his head at those critical, questioning points in the race. He finally said 'Of course I can do it.'"
In the New York City Marathon, admittedly Patrick’s favorite race, he added to his 2:12:06 in 1983—an age-graded performance of 96%, a level he reached or approached in six of his seven NYC Marathons--with six more New York Marathons. Pat was fourth in NYC 1984 (2:16:35)—the first American--third in 1985 (2:12:59), and fourth in 1987 (2:12:03). In 1985 and 1987, he was second and first, respectively, in Track and Field News rankings in the Marathon.
Alan Oman explained that anomaly in 1984.
"Tracy got him a sponsorship and Pat had to do some work for Ronzoni, but then, in the race, he bottomed out. I know that running around doing things before the race affected him."
Despite that four minute drop, however, Pat Petersen was in his element.
"He clearly had a talent for this event, right out of the block," Sundlun observed.
The fact was that Petersen had talent at any distance. Finishing the 1984 Cow Harbor 10K , the largest and most competitive road race on Long Island—and considered among the top 20 10Ks in America –just down the street from the Super Runner Shop, Petersen ran one of the finest races of his career. Slogging through a steady rain, he finished fourth out of 3500 runners in 28:48. (1988 British Olympian Steve Binns was the winner in 28:29.) A track time on the hilliest (and on that day the wettest) course on Long Island, in thoroughly waterlogged shoes.
“Across the pond,” in London, Petersen’s times were remarkably consistent: 2:11:23 in 1985(6th); 2:12:56 in 1986(4th); and 2:12:42 in 1987(12th).
Alan Oman: "In 1985, Pat was invited to go to London. But he told Gary, 'I'll run the race, but some guys have to run with me.' We ran the Cherry Hill 10 Miler to see which four guys would go. We went down there and saw some of the best runners in the country. Pat said, 'Oh well'"--in regards to the level of competition--"and he finished third or fourth in 47:59.
"So Gary paid for me, Mark Bossardet, Pete McNeill, and Mark Heinbockel to go to London with Pat."
Mark Bossardet described Pat's attitude there as "relaxed."
Mark: "Pat was at his best when he relaxed. The day before we arrived in London, Gary said 'When we land, we are not going to bed. We are all going to stay up and that way we can adjust to the time difference.' (London is five hours earlier.)
"So we all stayed up...went for a run, got a bite to eat....Pat was the odd man out. He went to bed."
Alan: "So Pat got up the next day, got us invited into the VIP Club, and we got onto the Elite Start--because of Pat we didn't get hassled. Afterwards, we went to the party. I think we all ran a better race because of him."
Mark: "Pat swept us in the race. There was no pressure on him and he did great. It was part of his personality."
In a phone conversation, Oman also hinted at the lighter side of Pat Petersen.
"Pat would do some crazy, unexpected things. Every once in a while he would surprise you...mostly it was harmless, but funny. Because of this we called him 'Snapper.'"
One of those stories--its source being anonymous--is that one day, while working at the Super Runner Shop, Pat put on a woman's bathing suit and sauntered around the store. It was hysterical.
"The races were fun," Alan continued, "but hanging around with him was special. He would go out and win a race--head and shoulders above the rest of us--and then, afterwards, he would be so much fun to be with...just as much fun off the track as on it."
While the marathon was his claim to fame, it could be argued that his best was five miles. His aforementioned 22:44 PR for five miles, according to Bea, "was when he beat John Gregorek at a Syosset 5 Mile Race."
On Long Island, he entered and won two straight LI 5 Mile Championships--23:30 in 1984 and 23:50 in 1985--proving his adaptability to shorter distances. Interestingly enough, in a pre-race questionnaire that asked each of the invited elite runners whom they hoped would run there, Pat penned in "John Gregorek."
Pat loved the John Perry sculptures whenever Islandwide races offered them as prizes, and made the L.I. Championship and the 5 Mile Race to Save the Whales whenever his busy schedule allowed. Decades later, those statues are still in his house.
Petersen became a fixture at countless races—both in New York City and out on Long Island--winning most of them in times that made him a local legend. In fact, it is said that, when he rode the New York City Subway, people he had never met greeted him on a first name basis.
1988 was an Olympic year. His 1:03:56 in March established the existent course record for the Brooklyn Half Marathon. A month later, he toed the starting line with the best marathoners in America at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Jersey City, New Jersey. A strong favorite to win—he was ranked #1—the race held great promise for the rising star. Unfortunately, in that April 24th race, he suffered from a runner’s worst—and probably oldest—malady: “the stitch,” forcing him to drop out of the race.
Tracy Sundlun told me that “Pat has always had stitch problems, but with only that one notable exception, he was able to overcome the pain.”
Paul Fetscher described the scene.
"In the 1988 Olympic Trials, the event took off 15 minutes before the open race. An hour later, as I ran it, I saw Pat standing at the side of the road. My heart sank. That was the first race I had ever seen him drop out of. He had been ranked as one of the top 31 marathoners in America, with designs on being a member of the Olympic team--and there he was, reduced to just another runner, standing on the side of the road."
1989 was a new year, and a return to Petersen’s winning form. On March 12th, he successfully defended his title in the Brooklyn Half in 1:05:02; a week later he coasted to a 1:55 in the Mike Hannon 20 Miler in preparation for the London Marathon.
In London, with far less pressure than the Olympic Trials of a year earlier, he stayed with the leaders--the winner, Douglas Wakihuri of Kenya, was just 61 seconds ahead of him--and Pat finished 7th overall in 2:10:04. That time was not only a PR, but established an American record for that distance.
As Sundlun explained, “Although other Americans had run faster times, those came on courses that were not record legal (too much of an elevation drop, for the most part), and therefore the marks weren’t ratified. This one was official, and lasted for 12 years.”
Rick Pascarella was with Petersen in London--Tracy was at his brother's wedding--and later reflected on that defining moment in his athletic career.
"I was Pat's teammate and Tracy's assistant coach, and accompanied him to London," Rick explained. "We had worked together before, and we shared lodging, so I was able to deal with any pre- and post-race duties. Pat's focus was on the race; he was there to win. He had (already) run against the best, and he knew that he belonged there.
"On race day Pat and I got on the bus, and were driven to the race with the other elite runners and their support staff. We did a light warm up, and everything looked good.
"As I had often done before, such as at the NYC Marathon, I was able to be at four different locations on the course: 10K, 15K, 20-25K, and the finish line.
"At 10K, he looked strong and comfortable; same at 20K. Unfortunately, I had to take a train to the finish and arrived a few minutes after he crossed the finish line. Later that day (NYRRC President and NYC Marathon race director) Fred Lebow came to the hotel and congratulated Pat. It was obvious how proud he was of Pat and his race. In fact, the London race directors were also so happy that they extended him the courtesy of awarding him the time bonus for breaking 2:10, even though he missed by four seconds."
One thing that stands out in Pascarella's memory was Pat's ability to run through an injury that day.
"He had a huge blood blister on the little toe of his right foot. When I asked him if it pained him, he just laughed. To Pat, his time, of course, was most important."
London was run in April; in the fall, Pat finished tenth in New York in 2:14:02, finishing the year ranked second in the country for the marathon. He also won his sixth (of seven) NYRRC Runner of the Year Awards, and sixth (of eight) Metropolitan Athletic Congress Runner of the Year Awards.
Out on Long Island, evenly matched with Kenyan Joseph Nzau (winner of the 1983 Chicago Marathon in 2:09:44, and seventh in ’84 LA Olympics in 2:10:44), Pat finished a close second (30:02) at the prestigious Shelter Island 10K. In his third and final L.I. Championship, the revamped race pitted Pat against Brian Abshire (23:34)—a 1984 Olympian--and Geoff Smith (23:34)—a two-time winner in the Boston Marathon—both of whom finished just ahead of Petersen (23:41).
1990 was two years away from the next Olympic Trials, and with added experience, he looked forward to another chance at the Olympics. In March, he won a NYRRC 4 Miler in 18:57; in April a 30:18 10K.
In the spring of 1991, however, he collapsed during a workout.
"He had an atrial fibrillation," explained Bea.
These irregular heartbeats, subsequently, sent his ability to train into a tail spin.
In an article by veteran sportswriter John Hanc—the long-time voice of Long Island running--Pat is quoted as saying “It’s hurt me. There are times when I can’t even walk up a flight of stairs, much less run.”
Pat refused to surrender.
Bea explained it to me in this way. "It was basically a rogue circuit; he had that circuit going the wrong way," Bea continued. "They (his doctors) performed an ablation; burned that circuit out."
A cardiologist's nurse expanded upon that.
"The physician inserts a catheter, and uses a radio frequency to create a little burn."
"He always had bursts of it (AF) here and there," added Bea "but he recovered."
He fought back with a 30:15 10K in April, a 23:57 five miler in May, a second five miler (24:20) in August, and a winning, 1:05:46 half marathon in September.
On November 3, 1991, Petersen entered his sixth—and last--NYC Marathon.
Tracy described it as a truly heroic effort.
"He was standing at the starting line. They did not do a countdown. The guy next to him was facing backward. When they fired the gun, he whirled around and elbowed Pat in his chest, cracking a rib and sending him into atrial fibrillation. He ran the entire marathon that way...an unprecedented, unbelievable accomplishment, which was basically his last great marathon."
Pat ran a 2:20:34, finishing 21st, and, although he qualified for the 1992 Olympic Trials, he did not run in it. At year’s end, he won both the 1991 NYRRC and 1991 MAC Runner of the Year awards.
In 1992, at 32 years old, Petersen continued to compete regularly. But he was now married to fellow marathoner Bea Huste-Petersen—herself a 2:45 marathoner.
Bea tells the story of their "first" meeting.
"We got to know each other while on the Warren Street team, but had met long before," the former Bea Huste explains. "It was at the (1987) Javits Centre Pentathon 5K. The race was run on the streets over by Madison Square Garden.
"I had recently graduated from Kenyon College (a private liberal arts college in Gambier, Ohio). When I graduated, I thought I wanted to get into cooking. My mother was, and I thought I'd like to also.
"I met a woman--and I can't remember her name--who was a bartender at the French Culinary Institute. She was also a runner and asked me to run that race with her. It was my first race since college. I think I ran something like 21minutes (21:05). Afterwards, we all got together at the hotel and they were showing a video of the race. Pat was in it--I think he won (first in 13:58)--and I remember thinking how fast he was, and that with his blond hair he might have been Swedish.
"About a year later I joined Warren Street, and became one of the faster women on the team."
"She started out as a half-miler...miler, and I kept moving her up," Tracy explained. "Probably the marathon was her best; she ran a 2:45."
"One day Tracy said 'I know someone who is perfect for you, and you are perfect for him,'" Bea recalled.
"I'm very proud of that (introducing them)," Tracy said, laughing. "They were both at practice, and Bea asked me 'Who is that guy?' Pat, separately, asked me 'Who that girl named Bea is?' Neither of them were exactly social butterflies.
"Back then we had these dual track meets where New York ran against Boston. I put the best from New York against the best from Boston. We gave the athletes, respectively, New York or Boston uniforms. Pat was one of our best: he ran one of his best miles at one of those meets, winning it in 4:07. He also ran a 4:06 in the 5th Avenue Mile in 1986.
"Pat was right in the thick of it, but I also added Bea to the team. I arranged it so that Michelle Bush sat next to me, and Pat and Bea would have to sit next to each other."
They shared each other's company all the way from New York to Boston.
"That closed the deal," Tracy laughed. "I don't think they were ever apart after that."
"We went out on our first date," Bea expanded. "I thought he would really be into what he ate--with his being a fast runner and all--but we went out for Chinese food. I was dumbfounded. But I knew we were going to spend the rest of our lives together. He was chatty, and really sweet. He brought me flowers at work, and for St. Patrick's Day.
"At some point, I lost my job and we decided to move in together (in Bay Shore, Long Island). That's when things took off. We got closer and closer. We got engaged and then were married on January 18, 1992. It was at the Rainbow Room at the top of Rockefeller Center. Tracy was our best man."
Competing in shorter races—with the exception of a stellar 1:48:41 at the March 28, 1993 Mike Hannon 20 Miler, which he reportedly "ran through"—Pat’s 10Ks were still in the low 30s. He ran 32:56 on January 19, 1997 at age 38.
"His a-fibs were still an issue, and he was still having problems," his wife said.
"We did our best to control it with the best people in the city," Tracy elaborated. "But in the end this was what life gave him. There's only so much you can do. I don't think anyone else had that ailment and competed internationally at that pre a-fib level. Ultimately, being able to control its return was impossible. At that time, we did not have the tools to control it. His first national/international race was in 1983...that was a long career.
"He made the Olympic Trials, and made the finals," Sundlun continued. "He finished in the top five or six of two major marathons in the world. That was his international distance. The fact that he could also run quality five milers and 10Ks, and had great track times--he was in the ballpark of a sub-4 mile--and a sub-2:10 marathon, accomplished by only a handful of men, including Rod Dixon and Greg Meyer, tells you how talented he was. Pat was a stud."
"You have that window where you are running really well," Bea added, "and Pat kind of passed through it. There was also a career change. He left his job at Grumman and he took a class on computers: network engineering, which was new at the time. Then he got a job at Dowling College. I'm going to say that was around 1998. When Pat went back to school, so did I. I left the cooking industry, and became a PA."
In 1999, Pat and Bea's first child, Maggie, was born. In 2001 and 2002, the boys, Jack and Eric, respectively, joined the family. And in 2004, Joy was born. Joy, incidentally, is the spitting image of her father. Now ten, and more interested in soccer, you can't help but look at her and think: "It's onlya matter of time before she discovers running and follows in both her parents' footsteps."
"Pat loved his children," Bea emphasized. "They were everything to him. We moved to East Islip because they had the best schools.
"We certainly had a very busy life; with four kids there was always something going on. And with our boys having autism, it made things challenging. Pat and I met the challenge together.
"We couldn't figure out what was going on with Jack. We talked about it with the Young Autism Program in Medford."
In 2007, Pat and Bea took a life-changing step, both for their family, and for many other LI families like theirs.
"We founded the EJ Autism Association," Bea explained. "EJ was named for our boys, Eric and Jack. We wanted to give something back to the people who helped our kids. EJ is the largest, independent, private, not-for-profit autism society on Long Island, and we operated it from our house."
The EJ Autism Association is L.I. based, and can be found on the website http://www.ejautismfoundation.org/. Its mission statement is "to increase autism awareness and to raise funds for programs that work with children on the spectrum. Its motto is "fight the mystery.”
Those years, between 2007 and 2014 were--as Bea said--busy times.
Pat ran fewer and fewer races. His last, on June 29, 2014, netted him 32:08 for five miles.
The following spring, unfortunately, Pat was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
When the end came, it was sudden. Pancreatic cancer does that. Pat died on May 31, 2015, at the too young age of 55. He left behind his beloved wife Bea, and the four children that he worshiped: Maggie (who was then 15), Jack (14), Eric (12), and Joy (10). Looking at Joy, however, it is as if Pat is still with us.
Pat also leaves behind fond memories of his boyish grin, his rapier-like wit, and that peculiar running style that somehow gave us all hope that perhaps any one of us who followed him off the starting line could be a winner.
Shortly after his funeral, I asked a friend--not only to both Pat and me, but to LI running--to summarize Patrick Petersen, and what he meant to all of us. Though never short on words, Paul Fetscher took some time to get back to me, but when he did, he offered this eulogy.
"In the late 1970s, the National Road Runners Club had a postal championship. I was proud of my race. I broke 26:00 for five miles. That day, Pat ran 23:45 and topped the nation. As we took our warm-down that day, I asked him what his goals were. I expected him to name his upcoming races and expected performances. Instead, he shared his real goals. Pat wanted to get married to a good woman and have kids. Well, his wishes were granted. He met Bea Huste and fulfilled his dream. Not only did he find a good woman, he found a strong woman, with whom he had four beautiful kids.
"Pat will never be equaled. It was an honor to have known him and called him a friend."
He will forever be a hero to all of us who knew him.