Ross Dunton fighting Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, lactic acid

Ross Dunton at 2000 nationals.

In the eastern Tennessee town of Sevierville, gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains, lives an M75 runner and coach named Ross Dunton. I’ve written about his courageous admission of Alzheimer’s — which he noted nearly three years ago in his track newsletter. His moods vary. I’ve come to accept his fiery personality. But when he wrote me out of the blue last week, I seized the opportunity to get an update on his condition. He also suffers from Celiac disease, Rosacea, Parkinson’s, “and my body will not make B12 from what I eat, so I have to inject myself with it daily,” Ross says. Wonderfully, he consented to answering my prying questions.

Here is Coach’s response:

I still run and compete. My daily newsletter goes out to 347 T&F athletes and coaches. Each spring about 20 more find me and want the newsletter. As I sit here typing this, I look out the window in front of me and see nothing but green fields and the foothills of the Smoky Mountains.

I train five or six days each week. I have a treadmill on the bottom floor of our three-story home. I run on the road, I run on the local HS track and on the indoor track at the Pigeon Forge Community Center that also has a very well equipped weight room.

I will be going to the East Tennessee Senior Olympics next month — to a masters meet in North Carolina in May and to the masters championships in Sacramento.

Yes, I coach by email. One whom I coached from the beginning is J. Abels, who is a masters age-group champion.

To become a U.S. federal agent, you have to pass this physical test: leg lift, sit-ups, push-ups, run a 300 and a mile and a half. Each year I get at least two requests on how to run the two timed races. This year one guy said that he had failed it three times and hoped that I could held him pass it this time. I am also a T&F “expert” on ALLEXPERTS so I get a lot of questions via that.

I spend at least two hours on the newsletters each day. It only takes me about 10 minutes to add another page to my web. When you go to my web: you will see articles that have been in previous newsletters. Before I launched the (site), I had to email that information to someone when they asked about a specific event. It is easier for both of us with the Web.

I am a USATF Level II certified coach in the jumps and sprints/hurdles. I attended a throws clinic. In about 1997, I had a column in National Masters News. That started floating info about me and coaching around. About 10 years ago, I had three or four back-and-forths with a female sprinter who wanted information. One day I received a nice thank-you card from her with a check for $100.00 in it. That was when I decided to do the newsletters.

For the first few years they were hard copy by regular mail. The lady went to Miami University (Ohio) before colored women could run track. She practiced with the men and was an alternate in 4X100 relay team in the ’64 Olympics. She has placed in the top three in a lot of masters championships.

We moved here in ’98 (from Southern California, where I first met him running the timing machine at masters meets –ken) and I could not join the USATF Tennessee Association direct. I had to contact Indianapolis. It took me a couple of years to find out that I was not the right color. After a lot of complaining to Indianapolis, they stepped in and reorganized the association. At that meeting, I was elected the masters chair. In a couple of years, I also became the VP. I did not keep track of the amount, but I spent at least $5,000 buying the equipment to host T&F meets. I had an electronic timing system and I took the throws equipment (shot, discus, jav) with me to the meets. I held meets in Nashville and Memphis. 2008 was the last year that I did that. I donated the equipment to the local schools.

There are no ads on my (site). I do not charge for anything that I do. I do what I do for the good of the sport.

At the suggestion of Ross, I wrote to one of his email-coached athletes, J.A. Abels of the Omaha suburb of Papillion, who works in family estate planning. He also was featured in the November issue of National Masters News (in the All American Spotlight section). I’m running nearly all of his note as testimony to how a coach can change an athlete’s life.

Mr. Abels writes:

Coach Dunton is one of my coaches. I do not believe I could have accomplished what I have in masters racing without Coach Dunton’s advice. He really knows track and field. He has great patience and understands the athlete as well as what is required to perform well in the track and field events. I think Coach Ross Dunton is a great coach!

I am 67 years old this year. I started running less than five years ago in June of 2005 at age 62. In July of 2005, I ran an 800 and a 400 in a small local meet in Nebraska, the Cornhusker State Games. These were my first races in over 43 years. I won the silver medal and a gold medal! From that point on, I was hooked and started training in earnest! However, it took a year before I discovered things like “Masters Track,” All-American and USAT&F, etc.

In the Fall of 2006, a fellow athlete told me about this coach in Tennessee he sometimes used, Coach Ross Dunton, who would coach and help athletes via email or phone. S I contacted Coach Dunton and asked to be placed on his email list to receive both the track and field news and the numerous coaching articles. I found his emails and articles fascinating and very useful. I was starved for this kind of hard -to-find, quality information. Up to this point I had only read Coach Dunton’s articles, I did not use him as a personal coach.

Unfortunately by May of 2007, two years after I started running, I had pulled and strained over 22 muscles and was about to quit track. I was so discouraged. As a last resort, I called Coach Dunton and asked him if he would coach me in person if I came down to Tennessee. He graciously said he would. I had qualified to run the 800 in the Senior Olympics in Louisville that July, but I had pulled a hamstring in late May, only six weeks before the Senior Olympics. Just prior to that pull, the fastest 800 times I had run was a couple of 2:40s. I just could not break 2:40!

In early June 2007, exactly four weeks before the Senior Olympics, I flew down to Tennessee from Nebraska. Coach Dunton met me at a local high school track where he videotaped and watched me run. Long story short, over the next month, Coach Dunton taught me the following:

1. Adopt a more dorsiflex style of running and stay off my toes!

2. Listen to my body and don’t listen to my “19 year old brain”!

3. 400m and 800m workouts and tactics.

I ran in the 800 race in the Senior Olympics on the 4th of July and won the silver medal! My time? 2:30.74 — a full 10 seconds faster than I had ever run the 800 in 43 years. In my opinion, Coach Dunton knows how to coach track. To date, my 800 PB is 2:27.68 and my 400 PB is 62.63. I don’t believe I have run my fastest races yet.

In 2009 I trained for the USA Masters Indoor T&F Championships using Coach Dunton’s 400 and 800 workouts and won:

1. M65 400 gold medal at Landover, MD, and became a National Champion.

2. The 800 silver medal in that same meet.

I also ran in the 2009 Outdoor National Senor Games, the Senior Olympics, and won silver medals in both the 400 and the 800.

By the way, I never ran track in college, only high school.

You asked: Has his Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other issues hampered his ability to coach?

I’m sure Coach Clyde Hart of Baylor didn’t get on the track and demonstrate things to Michael Johnson or Jeremy Wariner. Certainly phone and email coaching is not the same as personal observation of an athlete at the track, but Coach Dunton is still able to make suggestions on improving my workouts.

I detect only very minor issues due to his Alzheimer’s. Yes, he can’t run with me or show me how to run dorsiflexed on the track, but he knows track and can communicate that through personal email coaching, sending me applicable articles for me to read or talking to me on the phone. Great value is added to an article when Coach Dunton says “this is a good article,” read it.

You only get experience by living it; you can’t buy it. Coach Dunton has run it, coached it and lived it. To me that has great value. I really listen and value what Coach Dunton has to say to me.

I hope this isn’t too much information. I think a lot of Coach Dunton and I greatly appreciate how much he has helped me both with the physical as well as the mental part of running the 400 and the 800. In my opinion, Coach Dunton should get some kind of an award or recognition for his promotion of track and field. He really has a heart for promoting track and field and helping the track and field athlete.

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March 19, 2010

2 Responses

  1. Rob D'Avellar - March 19, 2010

    Just terrific. Much to learn from Coach Dunton…from his words and his example.

  2. al cestero - March 20, 2010

    your story is heartwarming. my wife and i took care of my dad for three years after my mom passed in dec ’04. he was diagnosed in 1997 with alzheimers. i found the more active he was the less intrusive the disease seemed to be. most of the time he would shuffle while walking, not that sure on his feet, but when i would take him to shoot pool at a local bar, he was able to balance on one foot and make extremely difficult shots.he was also a very good chess player and i kept him as busy as i could building model airplanes. my dad passed in dec 2007 at age 81. he was not involved in physical activity or excercise during his adult life. he was a basketball coach at different levels mostly recreation, but never seemed to be able to set the time to do physical things. he was almost six feet tall and weighed about 160-180 most of his life. he never really had issues with weight gain, but he did smoke and drink. i am now 56 and have not stopped competing, since i started as a second grader back in 1961. the past five years or so my knees have been problematic,and i missed outdoor last season. i entered the nj indoor championships in feb and had a decent long jump, but my other events were off the mark, in fact hitting the deck for only the third time in my life in the hurdles. you are an inspiration to me and i will continue to follow your story from now on… by the way, my in laws had a place in crossville for quite a few years…tennessee is a beautiful place to wishes….albert

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