Littleton’s Ted Painter remains Boston Strong – Lowell Sun
LITTLETON – Ted Painter has lived a very interesting life, which includes all kinds of ups and downs. But his downs, is what has helped make the Littleton High track coach into the elite marathon runner, and Massachusetts State Track Association’s Coach of the Year that he is today.
A retired Army Officer, who spent eight years as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., Painter, 50, became a dedicated long distancer runner shortly after his wife Corrie was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. He was told she had just three months to live. That was devastating news to the entire family, which includes three children, Rob, Charly and Maddy, the latter two, were five and two years old at the time.
Back then, running was an outlet for Teddy. A way to clear his mind as he dealt with all kinds of emotions. His long runs turned into road races and marathons over the course of three years. Then in 2013, he thought his days of hitting the pavements were over. Corrie was completely healthy, and still is today, beating all of those statistics. Painter was just about to hang up his running shoes for good, until he met the late Dick Hoyt. That was the day that Painter, as well as a young man named Nick Draper, lives changed forever.
“I met Dick Hoyt through a mutual friend, and we just got to talking,” recalled Painter. “He said to me, ‘well before you decide to stop running marathons, I know of a young man through the Hoyt Foundation, who is waiting for someone to step up and push him. Would you be interested?’ How do you say no to Dick Hoyt? That was just a game changer, totally.”
In the fall of 2013, Painter met Draper, who was 24 and living in a group home in Southbridge. He was born with Pelizaeus Merzbacher disease, which is an ability of the body to form the covering that protects one’s nerves. At that time, Draper had just undergone surgery, that left him unable to compete in the wheelchair track and field events, he’d once done at the Massachusetts Hospital School in Canton. Since that day that Painter and Draper met for the first time, they did a 5-mile race together, which has now led to 27 marathons together, including the last eight Boston Marathons.
“Our first together was in September of 2013, it was a five-mile race and Nick just loved it,” said Painter. “It kind of changed both of our lives. To be part of that organization and to get to know Dick Hoyt and to bring the joy of running to this young man, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to experience.”
Painter has done his training and was prepared and extremely excited about pushing Draper for the ninth time. However, a few days later, he was told that Nick was sitting this one out, due to COVID-19.
“I am very disheartened by this,” said Painter, who after giving it a lot of thought, decided to still run Marathon Monday. “I’ve contacted Team Hoyt to let them know that, on the off chance that the running half of any duo team is injured or sick on race day, I’m available to push someone. I’d hate to think of someone missing this amazing opportunity because their runner couldn’t do it while I’m running solo.”
Painter will be starting this year’s race after the duos in the first wave of the regular runners.
Getting that first taste
Painter grew up in Borrego Springs, California, 2.5 hours Northeast of San Diego. Although he played football, basketball and baseball as a kid, he admits he wasn’t much of an athlete. During his time in high school, he would dabble with running.
“I just found that I enjoyed running,” he said. “(I lived in the) desert. It was this huge place with mountains on three sides and I could just go and run. I started doing that as a teenager, just for something to do.”
After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Army, where running and fitness was just a part of that culture.
“I was an infantry man and during my career I became an officer, so (running) was just something that we did every day,” he said. “Some of the units I was in, the fitness we did, we were just athletes. We had really high standards. I served there for 20 years and retired.”
While he was always a runner, Painter didn’t take it to the next level until Corrie got sick.
“I didn’t do any kind of serious or competitive long running until I got into my late 30s,” he said. “That’s when I started getting into distance running. At that time back in 2010, my wife was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, called angiosarcoma and she was told that she had just three months to live. We had two small girls, one was going into kindergarten and the other one was two. The happy ending to that story is Corrie is still with us. But at the time, her prognosis was really, really bad, so obviously it was frightening and there was a lot of emotion wrapped up in dealing with that. Even after we made it past the three-month mark, it was ‘don’t get your hopes up, this is not going to end well’. There were a couple of year period there where we kept waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop.
One of the ways Painter dealt with that was just to run, and clear his head. As a result, he ended up running marathons and getting involved with various races.
“I would never say that I was competitive and I’m not an elite runner,” Painter said. “I’m a decent local runner, but I just enjoy running. It’s became a part of my daily routine. I found out early on that I was good enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
This will be his 12th consecutive Boston trek.
“I’m decent enough where I can qualify for Boston which is a hard thing to do because it’s a hard course,” he said. “That wasn’t easy to do the first couple of times that I did it. Running marathons, especially when you’re new at it, takes up a lot of time. To do it and not suffer as part of it, takes a lot of time. There are people who go out, train a little bit, and end up paying for it. In order to not to do that, there’s a significant time commitment into training.”
Painter thought that his commitment to training for marathons was over after the first three years of competition, but that changed when he met Nick, who has since become a very close friend.
“Nick means a great deal to me,” Painter said “His family and our family have become very close. The pandemic kind of interfered with that a bit unfortunately, but we’re getting back on track. We ran the Providence Marathon back last year, and Boston Marathon (last fall). We’re family.”
The first time Ted and Nick joined forces at Boston was 2014, which was an emotional day for many reasons.
“It’s special every time, sure,” he said. “Nothing will ever be the very first one in 2014 and I say that for several reasons. It was the last year that Dick and Rick Hoyt ran together. It was our first marathon together and it was one after the bombings. That was incredibly special for me, personally. To stand at the starting line with Dick Hoyt, who I consider to be a legend is something I’ll never forget.”
In 2021, Hoyt at the age of 80, passed away. He and his son Rick were iconic figures, not only in Boston but across the country. Rick was born with cerebral palsy, and his father pushed him in his wheelchair over 1,000 times in various marathons, 32 in Boston, and other races, always crossing the finish line with astonishing times. During their decades of races, The Hoyt Team and Hoyt Foundation were established, raising money and helping many other disabled men and women.
“Dick had a magnetic personality,” Painter said “Every once in a while, you bump into a person who automatically makes you a better person just by breathing the same air that they are. He was one of those guys. He was just a tremendous human being. He had such positive energy and was just such a tremendous athlete. I can’t overstate that enough. He was an elite athlete, 100 percent. To be able to do the things that he did in the times that he did them was just amazing. Our personal record at Boston is 2:54 and his was 2:40. The difference between 2:40 and 2:54 is a huge amount of time.”
In 2014, Ted and Nick finished their first Boston Marathon with time of 3:13 time. They’ve since chopped that time down to 2:50.
“Running with Nick is just a better experience for me, to be honest,” said Painter. “I find that mentally I run better when I run with him because I’m not just running for me. I’m really running for him. He’s the type of person, who if he were able to run, he would be 100 percent in it. I almost approach it as if I can’t let him down. I know it sounds corny, but when I grab those handlebars, it’s almost like this surge of energy just happens that doesn’t happen when I run by myself. It’s just something that I’m able to sustain over the course of long distance, more so then when I run by myself.”
According to Painter, you go through some dark places when you run marathons. There’s a lot of highs-and-lows during a 26-mile race, but he finds that managing those low points are easier. One of those dark places is Heartbreak Hill.
“For me, the Boston Marathon doesn’t start until after I cross Heartbreak Hill,” he said. “That’s how I mentally approach it. Until you get that behind you, the race hasn’t started. That helps motivate me to do well through all of the Newton Hills. Running with Nick, and this is my goal with every race I do, is just to keep running and never walk. If Nick could run, he wouldn’t walk. There’s something about it, but whenever I run with him, I feel like I get stronger and stronger. I feel like I can extend my stride and pump a little harder. It’s about getting him to the top (of the hills) and then eventually getting him to the finish line.”
And reaching that mark, is certainly an emotional moment.
“There is nothing quite like the Boston Marathon finish line,” Painter said. “It’s the Super Bowl of marathons. I think any marathoner will tell you that. Whether it’s London, or Berlin, or Chicago, Boston is the Super Bowl. You have the buildings on both sides and you’re almost in a tunnel with all of the people cheering all the way down Boylston Street in that last quarter of a mile. There’s just nothing like it.”
To Draper, there’s nothing like having this friendship and partnership with Painter. With some assistance from his mother Sheila Smith through an email exchange, Draper is so grateful for everything Painter has done for him.
“Nick said that when (Ted is) pushing him, it makes him feel happy and good inside,” Sheila wrote in the email. “He said that his relationship with (Ted) is damn good. When (the two of them are) running together, it is damn fast. Nick (also) said it has been a happy experience. He enjoys it very much and is very thankful for his partner.”
Putting the coaching cap on
After moving to Littleton from Oxford, Ted’s two daughters started to get involved with running with the middle school and high school cross-country and track-and-field teams, which eventually led Painter to become the girls cross-country and indoor and outdoor head track coach. Today, Maddy is an eighth grade and Charly, 16, is a member of all three successful programs, including part of the school record 4×200 relay team from the indoor season and is now a sprinter and pole vaulter for the outdoor season.
In March, Painter was named the MSTCA Coach of the Year. He took a team of 23 girls, producing 11 league all-stars and an individual state champion. The team finished undefeated, was second at the Mid-Wach D Championship Meet, was third at the Division 5 Eastern Mass Meet and had five girls compete at both the All-State and New Balance National Meets.
“Anytime the MSTCA refers to your town as the ‘Track Town’ is awesome,” said Painter, who credits Coach Casey Kaldenberg, as well as predecessor Coach Marc Saucier, with helping establish the program. “It’s just so great to coach these kids. Every day is an opportunity to make them get a little bit better. Just instilling the love of running, a culture of fitness (is so important). I just really enjoy coaching. I consciously got out of lobbying so I could dedicate my time to coaching. I just thoroughly enjoy it.”
Kaldenberg led the boys cross-country and indoor track teams to a number of league and divisional championships this past calendar year. He and Painter have coached a number of LHS Athletes, who’ve gone on or will be going on to Elite D1 Collegiate programs.
“Ted is incredibly dedicated to running and our track programs,” Kaldenberg said. “He gives the kids the tools and encouragement to be lifelong runners. He leads by example through his tireless hours and miles of training. Many of us look forward to watching him run the Boston Marathon with Team Hoyt.”
“Littleton track and field has years of incredible success to include numerous girls state champions,” he added. “This last school year was the first boys championships for cross-country and indoor track. Ted is a big part of this success.”
Besides being a high school coach, Painter owns a side business of being a private coach with prmarathoncoaching.com.
“I work with personal clients from the age of 16 and I have one who is 67 years old,” Painter said. “My expertise is marathon coaching. I am USTAF and RRCA Certified and I’m very successful at helping people run half and full marathons.”
While his days are full of his own running, coaching and family commitments, many wonder if Painter will continue this regiment of running marathons, and perhaps teaming up with Nick again next spring.
“I’ll do it as long as I physically can,” he said, sporting a biggest smile.