ROCKINGHAM — Runners are a unique group of people who will go above and beyond to help one another. Late last month, this tight-knit community lost a longtime member of the family who was considered a legend by many.
Ultramarathoner Bill Keane of Winston-Salem was 77 years old when he passed away.
He began running at the age of 40 as a fitness regimen. A friend invited him to a 24-hour race one weekend; immediately he was hooked.
He totaled well over 95,000 miles in his 37 years of running. His daily run consisted of a 10- to 12-mile loop around the city unless he was training for a run or actually running one, which added more miles to his daily total.
He was well-known and loved in his community because most everyone knew him. Keane also developed many canine friends as he would carry dog treats with him on his daily run. He often came home with more than he left with as he would find numerous items along the way; he called them his “roadside treasures.”
On Jan. 24, he was out doing what he loved when he unexpectedly had a fatal heart attack.
The Hinson Lake 24 Ultra Classic Run, which is held in Rockingham on the last Saturday of September, was one of Keane’s favorite runs, as he had said “It is one of the most desired 24-hour races in the country.”
The run began in 2006, and Keane had participated in every one. He holds overall second place totaling 1153 miles. Ray Krolewicz holds first place with only a 45-mile difference between them.
Keane and Krolewicz have run together for many years.
“I ran many races with Bill throughout the years and as we ran, we talked,” Krolewicz recalled. “We also talked before and after each race; he had a unique view of the world and used it to convey information in the form of interesting stories.
“He was intelligent and well educated; it showed in everything he did and said,” Krolewicz added. “I will miss running with him and seeing him at races. He was a respected and valued friend; I am richer for having known him.”
Hinson Lake run organizer Jerry Lindstrand said, “Everyone who knew him was touched by his humor, knowledge, love of running, and life in general. We all benefited from his wisdom and kindness. Not many people have left this world doing what they loved. He has left a hole that cannot be filled.”
Keane ranked one of the best runners in the country among his age group, and in 2015, at age 70, he finished sixth in the country for runners 50 and over.
His love for teamwork and mentoring other runners motivated him to start “Team Buttercup” several years ago. He selectively picked each team member, which to date total around 126.
Keane often mentioned his source of motivation coming from Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
He encouraged teamwork and would teach others the joy of running. Keane’s running partner for the past four years was Team Buttercup member Michelle Chauvin.
“In 2015, while running my first Strolling Jim, I set my eyes on catching the old guy ahead of me,” Chauvin said. “Two hours later, I clapped my hand on his shoulder and said, ‘Sir I’ve been chasing you for 15 miles,’ and thus our friendship was born.
“We spent miles together at multiple races getting sunburned, trying not to drown in the rain, shivering in the cold, and squinting in the dark; we had so many great conversations during those miles,” Chauvin continued. “He introduced me to so many fantastic runners and convinced me to leap out of my comfort zone. Bill and his sweet wife Susan graciously hosted me every time I was in the area for a race.
“He was the epitome of generosity; sharing years of running wisdom and encouraging every runner to go for ‘1 MO RUN.’ I hope I can be half the mentor he was.”
Lisa McFadden is also a member of Team Buttercup. She met Bill about 13 years ago.
“He had the nicest legs of any man I had ever seen,” McFadden said. “Bill always had a story to tell and wisdom to share. Over the years, we have shared many miles together.
“My favorite memory with him was in 2010 while running Laurel Valley; I ran the entire 35-plus-mile race with him and had the best time. I am lucky to have known such a wonderful man.”
There will be a large void in the ultra-running community as Keane’s friends will truly miss him, but in his remembrance they will continue to hold the torch of teamwork and hang onto the many encouraging moments they had with Keane as they pass the torch on to others.
A prayer that took place before a recent run went like this: “Lord bless this run until the run is done.”
Bill Keane ran the good race and now his run is done. 2 Timothy 4:7.
(Note: This story was edited to changed a time element.)