Bellin Run Legend Profile: Dennis Naidl
June 1, 2022
As part of our push to gather participation stats for our new Bellin Run Faithful recognition program, we are highlighting our longest-running participants — our Bellin Run Legends! Legends are the 20 individuals who have participated in every single Bellin Run since the event’s inception in 1977 — that’s 45 years and counting. We will continue to share the profiles and memories of our Legends on our Bellin Run blog and via social media. Next on our list is Bellin Kids for Running Coach Dennis Naidl!
Dennis Naidl looked at the first Bellin Run as a mental and physical challenge, especially considering he had limited long-distance running experience. He entered the first-ever Bellin Run with little long-distance running experience but relished the opportunity to run with Olympic Marathoner Frank Shorter.
What was your favorite or most memorable Bellin?
Looking back, there is no doubt that 2016, the 40th-anniversary run would rank as my favorite. Many family members and friends gathered before the race for pictures decked out in “Team Naidl’ t-shirts and tutus. Many ran the race with me. After the race, many more gathered for a party at our house to celebrate my 40 years of participating in the Bellin Run.
What year was the toughest?
You have to be lucky, and/or be in God’s good graces, to have endured 45 years of running. Tearing knee cartilage a week before the Bellin one year, suffering effects from a bad car accident another year, and recently dealing with Parkinson’s Disease, has made the 45-year streak challenging. The race, however, that stands out as the toughest would be the 5th Bellin in 1981. With a 12:00 noon start, temperature at 86 degrees with 66 percent humidity and a 17 mph wind, I, along with many other runners, completed the race despite the conditions. Many people suffered from the effects of the weather. Even the winner, Kyle Heffner, 1980 Olympic team member and featured runner, said, “I’m glad it wasn’t a 7 mile race because I wouldn’t have made it!”
What were some sacrifices you made to keep your streak going?
The date for Bellin was marked on the family calendar every year. Vacations had to be adjusted, appointments rescheduled, some events had to be missed. Our kids were forewarned not to get married on the Bellin race weekend. They all listened! Preparation started on January 1st, and countless hours of stretching, exercises, and running/walking were devoted to getting ready.
Were there family or friends who inspired you to keep going and in what ways did they support you?
Many family members have run Bellin with me over the 45 years. Every year, family, friends and even co-workers would ask about my participation in Bellin. Their interest and support helped to motivate me to keep the streak alive. Fellow legends have also provided encouragement by their example. Running a Bellin on crutches, running with injuries from a very recent car accident, dealing with cancer or hip replacement, and dealing with other injuries or ailments, hasn’t prevented 20 legends from completing 45 years. Probably the biggest inspiration for me is seeing thousands of people line up on race day to participate. The numbers have grown immensely from June 12, 1977.
How did participating in the Bellin Run impact your overall health?
Running Bellin has served as a great motivator to stabilize and/or improve my mental, physical and emotional states of health. Dealing with Parkinson’s Disease, one has highs and lows, but knowing that Bellin is on the calendar, I am better able to stay focused and get through the tough times.
Any other information?
I’m looking forward to a “regular” Bellin after two years of virtual. It’s been interesting. I ran the first virtual with George Wiesner, fellow legend. Last year, 8 legends gathered at Bruemmer County Park near Kewaunee to run the Bellin on the Ice Age Trail. My daughter and grandson from Denver ran across the finish line with George and me. (I still did the Bellin course the following Monday, just to do it.)
Hopefully, the complete Kids for Running program with be back soon. Coaching the kids from the school where I taught has been one of the highlights of my Bellin experience. I am thankful that Bellin has provided our community with a way to stay healthy while participating in a memorable social activity.