Bill Collins got by with a little help from his friends, and Rolls-Royce

Bill Collins, who won the Perth 1-2 double amid health issues, is an American nominee for WMA/IAAF Masters Athlete of the Year — along with Jesse Owens Award dinner Athlete of the Year-to-be Irene Obera. We’ve heard the basic news on Bill’s scare, but friend and teammate George Haywood (who defended his Lyon M60 title in the 300 hurdles at Perth) has shared the whole story. It’s amazing — as is this Q&A with Bill:

George writes:

Bill Collins is my teammate, friend, and one of the greatest masters athletes ever. He just turned 65, and ran the fastest-ever 100 meters by a 65-year-old, 12.17. There was a big article about him in the local paper, accompanied by a dramatic photo of him crossing the finish line. His story is particularly inspiring because three years ago Bill could barely walk. He was stricken with a rare auto-immune disease called Guillain-Barre syndrome. He went from being the fastest human ever above age 50 to being barely ambulatory. So the story of his return to breaking world records generates a lot of press, as it did here in Perth.

On Day 5 of the meet, after his feat in the 100, Bill ran the heats of the 200. I watched from the stands as he cruised easily, but after crossing the line he knelt on one knee. I was not alarmed because Bill has had some quadriceps issues which he deals with and proceeds to crush the competition in the next race. Then I noticed that he was flat on his back, surrounded by medics. I went down to the track to see what was happening. Bob Cozens, another teammate, came too. Bill said the left side of his chest was tight and uncomfortable. He said the tightness was diminishing but still there.

Now when a 65-year-old man who has just exercised vigorously (25.7 in the 200 is quite vigorous) says that he has tightness on the left side of his chest, alarm bells go off. He was treated at the track for about 30 minutes and then taken by ambulance to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, a major teaching hospital in Nedlands, a suburb of Perth.

We were not allowed to go in the ambulance with Bill, so we had to make our own way to the hospital. Bob’s brother Jimmy, who lives in Australia and had come out to root for Bob, joined us. We were told that the best way to go was to take the train to the Shenton Park stop, and get a cab from there. When we got off at Shenton Park, we went down to the street but looked in vain for a cab.

Along came a nice lady in her 50s on a bike. She stopped to cross the street where we were standing. I asked her if she knew where we might catch a cab. I guess our colorful and foreign athletic attire sparked a conversation, in which we explained why we were 12,000 miles from home, where we wanted to go and why.

She said cabs were scarce in that area and the hospital was about a 20-minute walk. Now Bob Cozens was the M80 gold medalist in the 200 and 400 so he doesn’t mind a brisk walk, but let’s just say Jimmy has not stayed in the kind of shape his brother is in (technically, no one else in the world of that age has either, which is why Bobby won the gold by 3 seconds). So walking was not an option.

The woman then brightened and said “If you’ll wait here, I can be back in a few minutes and give you a ride to the hospital!” We accepted her offer immediately, and sought shade from the intense sun under a nearby tree.

Ten minutes later, we see a Rolls-Royce approaching. We glanced at each other with questioning looks but within seconds the driver-side window rolled down and we could see it was our same cyclist, with fancier transport. Our heroine motioned for us to get in.

Barely containing our giddy surprise, we told her how grateful we were and asked her name. “Desley” she said, “Like Lesley, but with a D.” I had never heard such a name before, but somehow it seemed like just the right name for a woman who would give three strangers a ride to the hospital in her Rolls-Royce.

The ride was short and we had a pleasant chat with Desley. Knowing our urgency, she bade us a quick farewell. We found Bill feeling much better.

One of the nurses thought she recognized Bill, and remembered the article and picture in the paper about Bill recovering from GBS and running faster than the world record in the 100. A couple of the staffers asked for autographs, which Bill was happy to sign.

After extensive testing, it was determined that the tightness he had felt was from skeletal muscles, with no cardiac involvement. He was released after a couple of hours. The next day, with his arm still black and blue from multiple blood draws, Bill Collins won the gold medal in the 200, and the local papers had themselves another story.

Which reminds me: In a few years, George won’t recall all these details. So good on him for writing it down while fresh in mind. I urge you all to do the same on your Perth experience — for the sake of your progeny at least.

And kudos to our kids:

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November 8, 2016

7 Responses

  1. Doug Spencer - November 8, 2016

    Bill, you are an inspiration to all of us and a “true champion” on and off the track , I pray you will reach that goal of still competing at 97, GOD BLESS YOU !!

  2. Peter L. Taylor - November 8, 2016

    George Haywood, I very much enjoyed your rendering of these poignant happenings concerning Bill Collins on Perth Day 5 (with the charming “Desley” giving a nice touch of spice to the narrative).

    I found your account to be much more interesting than anything else I have read today, and I am glad you captured things so nicely.

    Unlike most of us, Bill Collins was a big star in college (All-American at Texas Christian University), and thus it has been especially pleasurable to have him in our midst as “just a regular guy.” Regular, of course, until the gun goes off.

  3. Bill Collins - November 9, 2016

    First I want to give my congrats to everyone on the USA World Championship team in Perth. What an outstanding performance from this small group of athletes, lots of new comers that were welcomed with open arms. The staff did another excellent job in keeping all of us together. Bob Weiner kept the USA team in the news everyday, and is one of the best media person’s I have come across,along with being one great guy all around. I want to thank everyone that reached out to me with concerns regarding my health. I’m back home and doing better, arm is still hurting and the color is starting to come back. Legs are still very weak from the lack of muscles firing properly during my runs. When I think I’ve got the GBS handled or under control or even gone, it comes back not at the same level, but it’s hard when your muscles are at 50% level or shutting off completely. But I am grateful that God has allowed me to run again, and see all the great friends from around the world that love this sport like I do of masters track and field. I have the greatest team mates in the world and yes Rick we are family and always will be “Houston Elite”. The media and people of Australia, were unbelievable, showing great amounts of kindness to all of us. To my wife and family, you know my love for each of you is without question on the top of my list, thanks for your prayers and I hope that in 2017 I can once again be back on the track, if for any reason that doesn’t happen it’s been a wonderful Journey.

  4. wayne bennett - November 9, 2016

    What a great response by Bill. Truly one of the greatest athletes and persons in this world.

  5. peter van aken - November 9, 2016

    Glad that Bill Collins had a successful meet and his health allows him to continue.

    in the very interesting and well told account of the incident, it describes Bob Cozens and his brother Jimmy, a resident of Australia, who came to the facility “to root for Bob”.

    This next conclusion is complicated to deliver the “punch line”, but it might be interesting to ask Jimmy, the resident Australian, if he would describe his attendance at the meet as “coming out to root for”…his brother…I am hinting that the definition of one of those words could be different from what we Yanks describe it as….but I’ll let you hear it from Jimmy, if you can connect this story up to all these names…

  6. Joseph Burleson - November 11, 2016

    I had the pleasure, as did thousands, of watching Bill Collins win the 100 meters at the University of Texas Relays, in Austin, in either the late 1970’s or early 1980’s thereabouts (note: as a TCU collegiate he won the 100 yards in 9.53 in 1975, I believe). I will never forget that the announcer marveled at this “older runner” who had beaten the “other” sprinters, and how amazing this was! I am fairly sure it was the 100 because the TR does not list any 220/200 records. I recall thinking that other than Delano Meriwether, M.D., an “older” sprinter (~28 years-old) from the ’60’s, I had never seen a world-class sprinter this old. Having met Bill for the first time probably 25-30 years ago, I noticed that he has always had time to stop and have lengthly chats (when not in the middle of a competition) with otherwise total strangers–usually for as long as they wished to talk. The irony is that, despite his recent challenges, Bill is arguably one of the “youngest” 65 year-old men on the planet! One of my most admired men on earth–

  7. Kevin Marbury - November 13, 2016

    I am one of the newcomers to Team USA that Bill mentions in his message. I was also humbled and honored to have been selected to run with both Bill and George on a M60 4×100 relay that won a bronze medal. To win my first medal as a part of a group including these two awesome men was the highlight of my participation. (George and I also won 4×400 bronze running with the “youngsters” in the M55 group). Both Bill & George were generous with their time, advice and encouragement to me and so many other members of Team USA. I hope to see both of them on the track next season and for many seasons to come. Until then wishing all good health and a big THANK YOU to both of them as well as all my teammates. Can’t forget to thank the managers and other supporters of TEAM USA.
    p.s. a special THANK YOU to team trainer Ena who kept us all able to compete each day. You are the main reason so many of us were able to get on the medal stand!

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