Salisbury’s ‘running man’ leaves behind a legacy of faith, friendliness and fitness – Salisbury Post
SALISBURY – Whether the sun was scorching the sidewalk or the air was cold enough for snowflakes to form, Richard Kelly was making his way down the sidewalk on Statesville Boulevard towards downtown Salisbury.
“I don’t care how hot it is, how cold it is, whether it is raining or snowing, Richard Kelly was determined to run,” said Jane Kelly, his second wife in eight years. “It was almost like an obsession with him.”
As soon as he came home from work each afternoon, Richard put on his black shorts, laced up his shoes, and took off his shirt. He was coming out of his neighborhood of Milford Knoll to record his daily quota, which alternated between 6 and 10 miles. If Richard missed a race, it was because he was bedridden by illness or undergoing some sort of medical operation.
“It had to be a real, very good reason,” said Jane.
Traveling the same route at the same time almost every day, Richard has become a staple of the Salisbury community – a friendly face and bare-chested that people have grown accustomed to seeing on their way home from work. Even to complete strangers he was familiar.
“We were going to places and people were like, ‘I’ve seen you run since I was a kid,’” said Jane. “Or someone would say, ‘I know who you are. You are the running man.
Richard Kelly, the Salisbury runner, died at the age of 74 last week. His life was celebrated by his friends and family on Sunday at Landmark Church.
Long before Richard was a man of faith who ran more than half a dozen kilometers a day, he was a man in poor physical and mental shape.
A native of Salisbury, Richard graduated from Boyden High School (now Salisbury High) and served in the United States Marine Corps. He returned to his hometown and married his first wife, Sandy. The two remained married for 31 years until Sandy died of a brain tumor in 1999.
As a young man, Richard fell into the wrong crowd. He started drinking, developed a drug habit, and smoked up to three packs of cigarettes a day. His waistline reached 42 inches and he ballooned to over 200 pounds.
Richard’s unhealthy lifestyle reached a breaking point the night his second son, Michael, was born in 1979.
“He knew his life had to change and when he got home that night he prayed and said, ‘If there is a God, please help me. Please change my life and give me a purpose, ”said Jane. “He said the next morning when he got up he knew he was going to start running.”
And he followed. Richard went to Knox Middle School that afternoon and tried to go around the track. He didn’t get very far. The unhealthy habits had taken a toll on his fitness and Richard found it difficult to run even a fraction of a mile.
That didn’t stop him from going back and trying another chance.
“Every day he would come back a little further, a little further, a little further,” said Jane.
One mile turned into 2 and turned into 3. Eventually Richard built his endurance to the point where he could run 10 miles at a time. As his stamina improved, other aspects of his life improved as well. He gave up his nicotine habit and began to lose excess weight, losing over 100 pounds.
Not previously a religious man, Richard also joined the congregation at Landmark Church.
“His life after that point was truly a life of service to God,” said David Whisenant, who lived next to Richard for over a decade and remained his close friend until Richard’s death. “That’s what he was talking about. He was a role model in the Christian life.
Richard taught Sunday School in Landmark, served as co-chair of the deacons council, and guided the church finance committee.
“He was still there early Sunday morning,” Landmark Pastor Mike Robinson said. “He had so many roles. He had so many hats.
Before the church congregation, Richard spoke of his transformation and used his experience to emphasize both the power of God and the power of daily exercise.
Richard’s commitment to the church continued with his commitment to running.
So it made sense that David Freeze, one of Rowan County’s most prominent endurance athletes, would meet Richard. But the two did not share the road in many local races. Freeze said Richard was not focused on the Turkey Trots or the 5Ks.
“He was just an everyday guy who walked his way in his day.” Freeze said.
Richard was so obsessed with his running program for fear that he would fall back into his unhealthy habits. To motivate himself, he even kept the oversized jeans he once wore.
“Whenever someone asked (Richard) why he was running so much, he would say it was because fat Richard was chasing him,” said Whisenant.
Richard ran a tattered pair of shoes every six months.
“He was religious about his race,” Robinson said.
Once, Freeze and running mate Dan Roseman decided to join Richard on one of his daily joggers. They wore the same black shorts Richard always wore and took off their shirts to mimic his signature look.
“There was a construction guy who had visibly seen (Richard) everyday for a long time and that really upset him,” Freeze said. “He yelled, ‘Hey, Richard.’ Then he said, “Wait a minute, which one of you is Richard? ” It was really fun. We laughed about it for a while.
The shirtless, mustached trio made headlines in the Salisbury Post the next day.
A few days after the race, Richard sent Freeze and Roseman a framed copy of the article. It was a gesture that Richard made quite often.
“If there was someone in church or in the neighborhood who was going to school, and maybe he was in the newspaper to be a star athlete or something, Richard would cut it up, would laminate it, frame it and deliver it to them, “Jane mentioned. “I can’t begin to tell you how many frames we bought.”
Wisenant said he still had at least five framed Richard stories in addition to several tapes Richard made from Sunday school lessons he gave.
Whether it was articles or recordings, Richard was known for his little gifts.
“He would do, and I guess we would go to jail for that, but he would make copies of kids ‘movies and every week he would have a route and he would take those kids’ movies, drive and put them in mailboxes.” , Jane mentioned. “He was always, always making things up, and I guess that’s why everyone loved him.”
Richard was loved by many Salisbury Town employees with whom he worked for nearly four decades.
Dave Treme, who was Salisbury City Manager for 25 years, first met Richard around 1985. The two quickly became friends, growing closer to their common faith and interest in running. They often prayed together, Treme said, and often found themselves praying for city employees, whom Richard was tasked with protecting as the city’s risk management director.
Under Richard’s safety guidance, the city reduced employee injuries and damage to personal property, Treme said.
“There may have been risk managers as good as Richard Kelly, but I haven’t seen better than him,” Treme said.
Richard earned a bachelor’s degree from Appalachian State while working full-time for the city. He also became a licensed adjuster and certified odor respirator, to detect unusual and potentially dangerous odors in asphalt and other substances.
“He was the ultimate professional and he worked incredibly hard,” Treme said.
Treme and Richard remained friends after Treme left the town of Salisbury in 2011. Richard retired four years later, in 2015, and was honored with a key to the town. The city also named a safety award in honor of Richard, which is still awarded to this day.
Upon retirement, Richard had the opportunity to fully explore his love of vintage automobiles and motorcycles. The crown jewel of his collection was a 1932 Ford hot rod painted in bright yellow. The car, driven by a friend of Richard’s, followed the hearse that carried Richard to his final resting place at City Memorial Park on Sunday.
Richard is survived by his two sons, Michael and Rick, his sister, Donna Roddy, his brother-in-law, Will Pleasants and his grandson, Bart Kelly, and his beloved dog, Cody Boy.