On Sunday, May 15, 2011, a memorial tribute was held in Tom Sturak’s honor, at the LA84 Foundation in the sports library. Over 80 friends gathered to pay tribute to Tom, in what became a four-hour afternoon of sharing wonderful stories and memories. Here, are a few of those words and photos.
29 June 1931 – 29 April 2011
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players;
they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.” (As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7)
In the days after Tom passed away, I took a reflective walk in Topanga State Park where we had enjoyed many a run. It was a beautiful day, a sunny clear blue sky and all the wildflowers in bloom. I always count it a special day when I see the deer, and on this day I was treated to six deer. There is a 10K race on the trails in the park that bears my name. The woman who took over the duties as race director for me since Tom’s condition required my time care-giving, dedicated this year’s race to Tom, and the artwork, a hawk soaring over the canyon. She requested that I come to officially start the race. Of course I did. (post-race story: http://www.topangamessenger.com/Articles.asp?SectionID=1&ArticleID=4483)
Thirty-four years ago, I married a man of integrity and principle, and a liberated male. By some friend’s observations, we were yin and yang. He was a night owl while I was a morning person; he was the moon, I was the sun; he was chocolate, I was vanilla; he was coffee, I was tea; he was red wine, I was white. We differed on coaching styles, but we were both trained in the Igloi system. We disagreed sometimes on writing and editing. I would write an article, he would edit it beyond recognition. He was an incredibly talented writer, I realize that. But I had to submit a few articles unbeknown to him simply to see if I could get published on my own. It worked. He said, not bad. He was the English professor, I was an English major. No, I did not marry my professor, but he was the professor I would’ve loved to have had in class. We both loved Shakespeare in particular. And going to plays. Especially in Topanga at the Theatricum Botanicum. I am reminded that Will Geer is the founder of Theatricum, and upon his passing, his family commissioned a local artist to make a set of tiles with a red-tailed hawk in scenes for all four seasons because they believed Will Geer was reincarnated as a hawk. Tom is in good company.
We had so much in common. Music. Loved music, especially rock & roll. And we were both about both Stones and Beatles. And we loved too many musicians and bands to even mention here. Loved going to concerts.
We met thanks to the simple coincidence that my coach, Laszlo Tabori, moved our team to the Southern California Striders (of Beverly Hills at the time). Tom always told the story that he saw me walk into his team meeting, in those burnt-orange colored stockings, with a short skirt, escorted by a bevy of male teammates; and he knew he just had to meet me.
Sometimes we would muse, that we wished we had a dollar for every mile we ran here or there, down San Vicente, or along Ocean Avenue. I wish I had one for every memory we created together. It’s been a miraculous joy recalling all the wonderful times we shared. Thanks to hearing from friends, and browsing through journals and photo albums, the good times are flowing back. Such a long time ago.
He never stopped saying I was the love of his life. Although many of you have said he was fortunate to have me, but no, I was the lucky one.
“Those who live passionately teach us how to love. Those who love passionately teach us how to live.”
Here are two letters read at Tom’s memorial, one from Pat Devaney and one from Coach Joe Vigil, both of whom worked for years with Tom. Following these letters, please find the obituary.
From: Pat Devaney
Subject: my friend Tom
With regret I’m unable to be in attendance today to say a few words in person about my friend Tom Sturak. It always seems on these occasions we look at a couple of dates, the day the person died and the day they were born. When we write it down we put a hyphen to separate the dates. That little mark represents a life time. Tom’s hyphen was full, rich and colorful, a life well lived.
I’ve asked Jacqueline to share some chapters from the history Tom and I had together. I cannot attest that it will be 100 % accurate , but close enough to give you a snapshot of the special times in our lives.
Back in the mid-eighties I was given the task to build the running division of an upstart company called Reebok. Its heritage was in running, it’s business was in aerobic shoes. To build credibility and awareness in the running and track communities the strategy of signing running and track athletes, federations and colleges was put into play.
My journey with Tom started when he presented two athletes to me for sponsorship. I needed a capable field agent who could help with the athletes we were signing fresh out of college to get into domestic and international track meets. I needed eyes and ears with meet directors around the world, Tom was perfect, I hired him. I hired Michael Fanelli to run promotions at Reebok and we started to build a team of advisors in Dr. Joe Vigil, Peter Thompson, John Gregorio, Caleb White, Whitty Bass and Fred Tressler. Everybody on this team had an area of strength and expertise that complimented the others. Most importantly, this team worked well together, had fun together and made an impact on the sport still felt today.
Our task was simple, beat Nike. This group traveled the world to track meets marathons, road races, championships and Olympic games. The sport was somewhat like a traveling circus of the sports gypsies, with athletes, coaches, shoe company people and agents filling the three rings. Tom was often first on the scene and dove head in into the thick of things. Race by race, meet by meet, medal by medal Reebok Running emerged.
Tom was working with accomplished elites and was good at it , athletes liked him , meet directors liked him. More important though was the guidance Tom gave the athletes we signed fresh out of college. He got them into the meets that would help define many careers. Tom’s insight and advice to coaches kept many an athlete from over racing or being overwhelmed by the European track meet circuit.
One of Tom’s main rivals was his best friend on the road: Pete Peterson at Nike. They kept each other company many a long summer in Europe. Sitting with the two of them at a track meet was always a colorful experience. Away from the meets I always enjoyed Tom and Pete’s special places to eat or drink throughout Europe along with their stories of the day.
I left Reebok and Tom continued on with the new regime. End of our story? No, I caught my breath and was given the opportunity to launch Mizuno USA footwear from scratch. One of the first people I called was Tom. Our goal this time was to beat everybody. Same formula, some of the same cast of characters as advisors. To bring this into perspective for those of you who may be runners and know the Mizuno brand today, Mizuno had not sold one pair of running shoes or track spikes in the US when we started. If you counted medals won at Olympic games to judge promotional efforts, our peak was at the Barcelona games when we beat all footwear brands in the medal count.
It should be known to all that a part of Toms legacy was his behind the scenes involvement in launching two of the worlds top athletic footwear brands. Tom gave many a young athlete the opportunity to compete at national and international levels that greatly influenced their development as athletes and individuals. Tom was an integral part of the fiber that helped shape and define the sport of track and field in the 80’s and 90’s.
In closing, the hyphen in Toms life was well lived. Thank you Tom, we had a hell of a run.
I was very much saddened by the death of Tom. I know it was inevitable but when it happens we are never ready.
Tom was a dear friend and even though we only knew each other for a brief period, it seemed that we had been friends a lifetime. We shared the same passion for track and field, we worked for the same company Reebok, and we traveled the world over for competition. These activities allowed us the opportunity to spend time together and share thoughts about our lives.
He was as genuine a person as I have ever met. He was extremely knowledgeable about many things, not only track and field. His love for you and his family came across loud and clear.
It was these values that gained the respect of his colleagues where ever he went and this is why we all loved him. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. I have enclosed a poem which I think he would like and all who knew him to follow the tenants listed.
Coach Joe Vigil
If I should die and leave you here a while
be not like others sore undone,
who keep long vigil by the silent dust.
For my sake turn again to life and smile,
Nerving the heart and trembling hand
to do something to comfort other hearts than thine.
Complete these dear unfinished tasks of mine
and I perchance, therein comfort you. –Mary Lee Hall
29 June 1931 – 29 April 2011
Tom Sturak, runner, editor, teacher, sports journalist, consultant and athletes’ agent has died from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 79. A California native, Tom was born in San Diego, and became a long time resident of Topanga.
A dedicated track and field pioneer and enthusiast for over sixty years, his love of running was matched by his passion for literature, art, and contemporary music. He always had stories to tell, issues to rail against and causes to support.
A Navy brat, Tom lived all over the United States before his parents finally settled in San Diego. There he attended Point Loma High School, where he discovered his love of running. As he told the story, “I ran the 660. They didn’t make shoes small enough for me. I ran my first race barefoot, and ran last the entire distance. I guess that’s what you would call inauspicious beginnings.”
At San Diego State University he trained under Charles ‘Choc’ Sportsmen, who encouraged his athletic aspirations, and where he set six school records and was twice conference champion. He also edited the college newspaper and graduated with a major in Journalism.
He was a charter member of the San Diego Track Club, ran for the Los Angeles Track Club, and ultimately was one of the founding members of the Southern California Striders.
After two years of service in the Navy during the Korean War, he pursued graduate studies in English Literature at UCLA. His doctoral dissertation was the first study of American “hard-boiled” fiction writer, Horace McCoy. He earned his PhD in 1967.
Tom worked as chief editor of the computer sciences department at the Rand Corporation between 1966-70. He taught English, literature and technical writing at Santa Monica College, Cal State LA and UCLA. In 1977, he was hired by Nike in a position that gave him the opportunity to blend his skills with his passion. He was Director of Running Promotions from 1980 to 1983 and traveled extensively on the international running circuit, developing personal and profound relationships with many world-class athletes. He was their devoted advocate and supporter; their struggles and triumphs became his. From 1983 until his retirement, he continued his work with and for athletes through Reebok, and as an independent sports agent.
Tom contributed more to his sport than he ever took away. He spent countless hours volunteering to direct numerous track meets and road races across the country, including being the Co-Director of the LA Olympic Marathons in 1984.
Tom was an innovative thinker and an astute observer of society. His cantankerous, sensitive soul shaped and enriched his relationships with family; his keen intellect and appreciation of the absurd enlivened his many friendships.
He is survived by his wife Jacqueline Hansen and son Michael Sturak. He is also survived by Katharine Sturak and Clara Sturak and four grandchildren: Yara, Eloise and Marius Mignon, and Dashiell Chandler.