David Coyne ended one of his meticulous weekly updates to members of the Twin Cities Running Club on New Year's Day with a common quote that is poignant today:
"Champions are made when no one is looking."
No doubt some of his admirers, within the running club and in other road running domains, would say it was written for people like Coyne.
Coyne, 67, died unexpectedly Sunday afternoon at United Hospital in St. Paul after telling his family and friends he was suffering a bad case of flu. The news sent a jolt through the Twin Cities Running Club (TCRC) membership in addition to other running circles in which Coyne for years served as a coach, legal counsel, volunteer and all-around road running ally.
Coyne, a St. Paul resident, founded TCRC in 2003, motivated by his work as a coach for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Team in Training. He sensed some people new to the sport who took up charity runs were looking for a platform to continue to learn in a low-key, all-comer environment. TCRC was born. Today it has about 150 members.
Longtime TCRC member Sally Hed Dahlquist recalled his effective coaching — and always with encouragement. She has finished 146 marathons.
"I never dreamed that jogging would turn into such a big part of my life," she said, "and Dave was a critical part of making that happen.
"Many others in our club also travel and run lots of races, fast and slow, near and far. Dave could coach anyone and will be greatly missed," she added.
TCRC's normal Tuesday night run still occurred, club president Jim Richardson said, with a meetup afterward at the Parkway Pizza in Minneapolis' Longfellow neighborhood to honor their mentor and coach. Brian Durand acknowledged Coyne on Facebook: "When we watched how he treated others, we became better people."
Like his detailed weekly updates to the club, Coyne had reach — such as founding one club while a part of another. Richardson, of St. Paul, joined TCRC in 2010 after meeting Coyne in the Don't Forget to Breathe Running Club — which now, decades on, meets every Sunday to walk part of the East River Parkway. Later, members grab coffee and more conversation at the JS Bean Factory in St. Paul.
Forming Running USA
Not many people were looking when Coyne worked with a small but formidable group of others to establish a national organization to champion long-distance running, said Ryan Lamppa, a longtime friend who was at his side.
Lamppa recalled three years of meetings, phone calls and behind-the-scenes maneuvers to launch Running USA in March 1999. Coyne and others believed that a national organization committed to long-distance running and constituents like then-Twin Cities Marathon Inc., New York City Marathon and other big races of the time was paramount. To that point, USA Track and Field (USATF) was the governing body of sorts over running, and its mandate was too large, Lamppa said.
Coyne did much of the "intellectual grunt work," Lamppa said, including writing an instrumental white paper that galvanized the support of key players, including USATF brass.
Lamppa would serve for 15 years as Running USA's media director; Coyne, an attorney, was legal counsel.
Twin Cities Marathon Inc. later became Twin Cities in Motion (TCM), which continues to have a prominent position in Running USA. Virginia Brophy Achman, the former TCM executive director, said the national organization has evolved, too, from its origins in support of long-distance runners that Coyne and others envisioned. Today, it's considered the central trade group for races, vendors and others. And that's OK, she said.
"There are a lot of people in the industry no one will ever know … Dave used his talents and skills to help the sport in ways he could," Brophy Achman added.
Why such a commitment to running?
His twin brother, Doug, of Sioux Falls, S.D., said it boiled down to compassion.
"He just loved to help people out," Doug said. "We would talk often, and he would say, 'I have this many going to Grandma's and this many to the Twin Cities Marathon.' He would talk about who had set personal bests. He loved to see people reach their goals and even beyond."
Plans to honor Coyne's life are pending, his brother said.