DULUTH — Over the past four decades, if you entered a Minnesota road race, or ran inside the Metrodome (or U.S. Bank Stadium) or competed in any number of track meets, Rick Recker of Minneapolis assisted your effort.
The everyman of state running was everywhere. Probably best known for riding his trusty Nishiki 12-speed road bike while measuring 634 road courses and, in all, certifying the correct length of 1,485 races, including Grandma's Marathon and the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon.
For the first time in recent memory, those North Shore races were run Saturday morning without Recker. He was diagnosed with liver cancer in September 2021 and died five months later, on Feb. 19, at age 77.
Recker's final public moment came Feb. 4, in a Grandma's Marathon Hall of Fame induction ceremony in the library room of his downtown Minneapolis River Towers condominium building, his home the past 30 years.
"Of course, his family came first, but there was never any doubt that running was his life," daughter, Stephanie Ziebarth, 49, of Greencastle, Pa., one of Recker's three children, said recently. "He was independent, a minimalist, and did the best he could to do good for others."
Part of an athletic family while growing up, Recker took to running at Minneapolis Roosevelt High School, Class of 1962, then as a University of Minnesota intramural champion.
That avocation turned into a career. He served as president of the Minnesota Association of USA Track and Field, and the Minnesota Distance Running Association. He helped organize winter indoor running at the state's two domed NFL stadiums. He officiated at countless high school and college track and field meets.
He had a hand in the Twin Cities youth mentoring program Bolder Options. And he was a proud runner until his final days, competing in nearly 3,000 races, including 30 marathons, twice at Grandma's.
"He was the most focused and determined person I knew; disciplined and stubborn, even to a fault. He was a genius," daughter Stacy Brooks, 42, of Peoria, Ariz., wrote in a Facebook tribute.
When accepting his Grandma's Marathon Hall of Fame award, Recker said: "I can't think of anything more special. Duluth is a beautiful city [and] the race is one of a kind."
Minnesota's oldest marathon, debuting in 1977, gained national stature when Minnesotans Garry Bjorklund and Dick Beardsley ran consecutive winning men's times of 2 hours, 10 minutes, 20 seconds in 1980 and 2:09:37 in 1981.
After Beardsley's 1981 performance, the accuracy of the North Shore course was questioned by Charlie Rodgers, brother of American marathon star Bill Rodgers. The 26.2 miles from Two Harbors to Duluth was certified, but to please critics, Grandma's Marathon executive director Scott Keenan remeasured for 1982.
Recker was called in. He used a new calibration tool, developed by New York engineer Alan Jones, which fits onto a bicycle front wheel. The Jones Counter remains the industry standard and whenever Grandma's Marathon had a course change through the years, Recker was back on his bike.
"Rick was dependable and professional and serious about his job," Keenan, retired from Grandma's Marathon, said recently from Duluth. "He gave me the confidence that our courses were accurate, which was so reassuring. We also asked him to be on a committee, on race day, to handle any issues or protests from runners. He genuinely cared about what was right for the sport."
And Recker was nothing if not uniquely regimented. For many years, he had the same bicycle, same yellow travel bag and same maroon windbreaker jacket. He was frugal, not owning a car as a downtown Minneapolis resident, instead depending on his legs, bike, friends and public transit.
He knew the skyway system as well as anyone. Yet, his daughters say, in their youth, he provided international trips for his children, traveling with them, separately, according to their interests. Chile, Argentina, Turkey, New Zealand, Guatemala, Egypt, Peru, Greece, Italy. He visited nearly 70 countries.
"We had quality time with our father and he opened our eyes to the world, and provided incredible memories," said Ziebarth.
"He is the one who taught me to hike to the top, push to the end, open those unmarked doors and see what we can find," wrote Brooks.
Recker, who had seven grandchildren, asked to remain in his condominium after being diagnosed and was doing sit-ups in life's final stages, much to the surprise of a hospice nurse.
He also spent time planning, and financing, his own celebration of life party, held June 3 on Nicollet Island, complete with jazz music, his favorite. Mayor Jacob Frey, a former professional runner, who represented the U.S. in competition, proclaimed it Rick Recker Day in Minneapolis.