SEEKONK — At the annual Arnold Mills Road Race in Cumberland on Fourth of July morning, former St. Raphael Academy and current Hendricken High coaching icon Jimmy Doyle was plenty busy taking mile splits of nephews Brian and Connor.
And for good reason: He wanted to know just how fast his late brother’s kids were running.
They didn’t disappoint, as 20-year-old Brian captured the Open Division title with a four-mile clocking of 21:07, and kid brother Connor, 18, took third in 21:26.
When the combined fun/competitive event ended, he spent more time issuing to participants informational postcards about the upcoming Bobby Doyle Summer Classic, which is slated for Sunday, Aug. 11.
On its back is a vivid, black-and-while photo of former Rhode Island distance running phenom Bobby Doyle, arms raised in triumph.
“That picture, I believe, is of Bobby winning the Ocean State Marathon in 1990,” older sibling Jimmy stated recently. “He was 41 years old, but still won. He took seven of those marathons, and I can still see him doing that live in my head.”
The sixth annual five-kilometer fun run/walk will begin at the Narragansett Pier Middle School at 9 a.m., while the five-mile race will follow precisely at 10 a.m. Jimmy Doyle wanted – wants – desperately to get the word out.
These simple trots, he says, are conducted solely to financially aid those younger brethren who take the sport as seriously as the Doyles also did – and continue to do so.
The younger Doyle died tragically of a sudden heart attack – at a tender age of 58 – on Dec. 14, 2007. According to Jimmy, it took only hours for his phone to ring.
“One of the most special things Bobby did in his lifetime was the fact his competitors were his friends,” he stated. “There were a lot of them, and they included Hollie Walton, who was one of his best friends; Tom Grundy; Roland David; Pat McNulty and Ray Nelson.
“Hollie was his best pal for life; he always called him his second brother,” he added. “After Bobby passed, Hollie called me, and he said, ‘We’re all Bobby’s friends, and we want to honor his life, memorialize him, with a road race.’ We got started on it right away.
“Bobby always told me that we’d go to all these charity and benefit races to help those with cancer and other diseases, and we’d help out the Special Olympics and all these other organizations. He’d say he was always amazed at how the running community would come together to raise money at those races, and that it was always his dream to have one to benefit the running community.
“This event is for him. The reason Hollie contacted me is because Bobby got him into running when they were both at Hope High School. Hollie was a kid from South Providence, and he got really interested it, later became an All-Stater himself, like Bobby.”
Doyle explained his brother went to the University of Texas-El Paso, and Walton followed him there.
“For the rest of their lives, they remained the closest of friends,” Jimmy stated. “When Bobby went to Johnson & Wales University to work as the student activities director, Hollie became his assistant. They used to train together, they did many, many races together.
“Hollie became interested in doing marathons like Bob, and he helped him become a better one. No sooner had we had the funeral, Hollie called me with the idea. That’s when he said, ‘God bless him, let’s have a road race like the one he wanted: To help the younger runners.’
“He told me he’d get together all of Bobby’s friends, and I got together Patrick and Brendan (his two sons from a previous marriage), other family members and their friends,” he continued. “The thing we wanted most was a race for runners to be organized by the runners themselves.
“That’s just what we did.”
Those who aren’t close to Bobby Doyle may not know the influence he had not only on the local harrier world, but the one far beyond it.
After his stellar careers at Hope and UTEP, he competed in hundreds of events, including multiple Boston Marathons and two Olympic Trials, those in 1976 and 1980.
(The latter U.S. team never went to the Games in Moscow, due to then-President Jimmy Carter’s boycott due to the Russians’ invasion of Afghanistan).
Bobby qualified for neither, but did compete at the 1979 Pan-American Games as a member of the American contingent.
“He qualified because he was one of the top three finishes at that year’s Boston Marathon; it was held in Puerto Rico, and the temperature must have been 100 degrees (Fahrenheit) or more,” Jimmy chuckled. “I will say I think he was the only American to finish. At Boston, he took seventh overall with a best-ever time of two hours, 14 minutes, one second.”
Bobby never stopped giving back, as he spent years coaching at La Salle Academy and, later, Woonsocket High.
“He coached the Woonsocket cross-country team to the state title in 1996, and that was a hard thing for him because his first two boys (Patrick and Brendan) were at St. Ray’s, and I was coaching at Hendricken,” Jimmy noted. “Saints (were) second (as a team) that year, and we were third.
“We were all so happy for Bob,” he added. “He had five fantastic runners that year, and he coached them so well. One of the reasons I was so successful as a coach was because of the concepts he taught me. I used everything he told me; Bobby believed in a hard work ethic.
“He always said that the reason he had success running had to do with a combination of strength and speed. Strength equals speed, and vice versa.
He used to say, “The stronger you get, the faster you get. He was a true-blue proponent of working out (lifting weights) for strength, and stretching for added flexibility.
“I owe a lot to him.”
No question about that, as Jim Doyle has led the Hawks to numerous state team titles, not to mention individual Rhode Island crowns.
This “Summer Classic” is truly a family affair – be it immediate or extended. Just like the Arnold Mills event, his sons Brian and Connor will take part in the five-mile “competitive” race named for their dad, and both are aiming to win it.
In fact, even their little sister Mackenzie Doyle will take part – and she’s only a sixth grader.
Jimmy will serve as co-chairman with nephew Brendan, who also will serve as the organizer for the Narragansett and State police details (as he’s a trooper himself. He would run, if not for his other duties).
All four Doyle boys are former All-State and collegiate harriers (Brian is preparing to begin his junior year at Northeastern, Connor is freshman season at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, also on scholarship).
“Like I said, all of this is to benefit young runners,” Jim offered. “We’ve given out four scholarships each year – (to) two boys and two girls, and they have totaled $6,000 a year. We do that every year.
“More than that, we also give funds to high school and middle school cross-country and track programs, as well as youth running clubs,” he continued. “We call those grants and/or scholarships. Over the past five years, we’ve given out over $55,000. For example, two years ago, St. Ray’s needed new cross-country uniforms, so we made a donation of $1,000 so they could purchase them.
“We’ve also contributed to North Cumberland Middle School so the athletes could continue to represent that program (which was almost eliminated). Last year, we also contributed a good sum to Cumberland High School program, but we’ve done this all over the state.”
He included the Providence Cobras and Smithfield Sentinels running clubs, and noted this time around they’ll attempt to raise funds for the new Fast Track contingent out of Central Falls, another youth program. In addition, this group helped Narragansett High start their first-ever indoor program.
“Our best turnout came probably in our second year,” Jim said. “We had close to 700 runners, but we usually average about 500. What a testament this is to Bobby! … Right now, we probably have about 100 signed up, but usually a lot of people wait to the last minute to register.”
He was quick to note that each participant will receive a free, “high-quality,” technical T-shirt, and every finisher will gain a medal. The top three Open Division placements will take in cash prizes, and the first three finishers in each age category will snag merchandise or gift certificate.
“All of those helps keep the race alive,” Jimmy explained. “Another reason this has been so successful? A guy named Mark Mercurio, who owns the Go East Promotions of Rumford.
He gives us the medals and the T-shirts. Mark’s a dear friend of mine, and of the Classic. Without him, the expenses would probably prohibit the conduction of such a race.
“It’s a remarkable thing that so many people contribute,” he added. “Everyone on the committee has a responsibility. Roland David is unbelievable making sure we have all the printed signs; we have all of our meetings at Amtrol, Inc. (of West Warwick), where he works.
“Hollie is our supervisor, and he makes sure we’ll all doing our jobs. Tragically, this past Friday (July19), we lost Meredith Nelson (to a heart attack, that at 69 years). She was the head of our scholarship committee. She did all of our race results.
“It was such a blow to us; she was a great friend to Bobby and the entire Doyle family. One thing we decided to do for her was, because she passed out all the bibs (numbers), and because she used to give Bobby the No. 1, we’re going to hold out that number this year.
“That’s reserved for her in her memory. We’re also going to name the high school female scholarship winner for Meredith. She developed the entire scholarship selection process, and it was a very fair system. We’re indebted to her.”
The other primary sponsors include Bailey Automotive of North Kingstown and the 100 Club of Rhode Island. The latter donates a scholarship to the high school athlete who has a parent who works as a police officer or firefighter statewide.
“This year, because Mike Crawley was a firefighter, his son, Trevor (of CHS) will receive the 100 Club’s Male Scholarship,” Doyle stated. “He more than deserves it. He will attend Providence College.”
Jimmy even has an honorary chairman, and that’s great nephew Gabriel, the one-year-old son to Brendan and grandson to Bobby. Likewise, Ray Dalton – now 90 and a long-time starter for Bobby’s high school and later marathon races – will fire the gun once more, and for the first time in this one.
The pre-registration fee per adult is $25, while race-day signups (to begin at 8 a.m. at Narragansett Pier Middle School) is $30. For high school participants, the price is $15 for either the 5K or five-miler.
For more information, or to register, visit www.bobbydoyleraces.com , or call Jim Doyle at (401) 578-2955.