This week is the virtual marathon week for the 2020 Boston Marathon. What does that mean? Runners for the 2020 Boston Marathon can independently run their 26.2 miles and submit their times as a virtual way to participate amid COVID-19. I could not think of a more honorable man to speak on behalf of this week as we motivate these runners and acknowledge this accomplishment.
It is also important to note we are coming up on one year without this individual in our lives. After finishing reading this post, I hope you feel the inspiration and love that I’ve known for years. Billy was an icon and an idol to many, however in our home, he was a friend we loved like family.
In 1986, my father was in the State Police Academy and each individual was tasked to submit a letter addressed to Billy. At the time my father had no concept of what this letter would lead to. Following Billy’s death, my father learned that Billy kept his letter dated October 10, 1986; as he grieved a man who quickly became a mentor and friend for over 30 years. I envision a stack of letters from trainee’s pleading for acknowledgement and riddled with praise, and then there was my father’s letter was drenched in sarcasm yet with an undeniable sense of pride and gratitude through each line. It’s no wonder Billy held onto this for over thirty years. Continue reading to understand why only after 12 years with the MSP it was essential for trainee’s to seek him out, it was essential to know his name.
Billy Coulter was an indescribable man, not that we cannot find the words but that the words would never do his life justice. It was once said, “If Billy was your friend, you didn’t need many others”. Billy was intentional in his words and in his actions, there was never a question of meaning or heart, no matter the endeavor.
Billy joined the Massachusetts State Police in 1974, Billy would have reached 45 years within the MSP in November 2019. Billy was widely known and respected immensely across the Massachusetts communities. Billy was a graduate of the 59th Recruit Training Troop serving in many roles through his career including an investigator and combating gang violence. At the time of his death, Billy was assigned as a Detective Lieutenant to the Division of Investigative Services at General Headquarters. Following his death it was known that Lt. William Coulter’s death leaves a tremendous void within the MSP family and beyond. As we approach one year without Billy, the void only grows larger as each memory sings in our minds and our hearts and our actions strive to make him proud. However, Billy’s work spanned further than his uniform; he had a profound ability to connect with others.
Billy had a passion for physical fitness, to say it lightly. Years prior to Billy’s passing, the MSP dedicated the General Headquarters fitness center to his honor as William ‘Ironman’ Coulter. Billy inspired those around him in more ways than one, his life was more than admirable, at many moments he was larger than life. In his lifetime, Billy ran over 150 marathons, with 36 being the Boston Marathon, over 20 triathlons and remarkably 23 Ironman Triathlons. Billy had a passion for running, Billy had a passion for the Boston Marathon and he routinely organized the participation among wounded veterans and MSP members for this race.
Who is this man? My father met this man (shown with Billy) in Chicago as he prepared to run the Chicago marathon in 2016. They casually met at the pre-race expo and began chatting, he had traveled internationally to run the Chicago Marathon however his dream was to complete the Boston Marathon. As for many runners, completing Boston is a triumph. My father called Billy later that morning and that Spring this gentleman ran alongside Billy, completing the Boston Marathon. This is a small notion of what made Billy so special to so many people, you had a dream? He wants you to see it come to fruition. Together they ran more than Boston, as shown they completed the New York Marathon together as well. As I’ve said, once you had the pleasure to know Billy you never wanted to be without his presence.
Billy was introduced to running in the 1970’s as he prepared for the State Police entry exam which required a 6 minute 30 second mile run. Billy discovered his stride and all that accompanied it, including the therapeutic aspect. Billy ran his first Boston Marathon in 1978 finishing in 3:20; his best marathon time was Cape Cod Marathon in the mid-1980’s at 2:59. In 1982 Billy completed the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon, finishing 160th out of 800. This consisted of 112-mile bike ride, 2.4-mile swim and 26.2-mile run. Billy continued to defy the odds, completing this same race in 2003 with a hip fracture.
Okay so we have a man dedicated to serving others, dedicated to fitness, big heart, great sense of humor….where is this grand inspiration? Let’s move to Billy’s nickname, Ironman.
Billy was extraordinary and he defied the odds many times. Billy is a cancer survivor. Billy had an energy and dedication to his part of his life experience that knew no limits, Billy overcame more than one dire prognosis in his lifetime with grace and strength. In Spring 2004, Billy underwent multiple surgeries and subsequent treatment following a dire throat cancer diagnosis. The nurse apologized as she believed she had pulled the wrong medical record stating she grabbed records for someone who ran the Disney Marathon only five weeks following radiation treatments, with his IV pole. “No, no that was me” was Billy’s response. Billy quickly inquired about the 2005 Boston Marathon, laughing that he got looks that spoke “is this guy stupid or does he just not hear us”. His medical team was adamant, he would not be running the 2005 Boston Marathon. However, come December 2004, his team acknowledged that Billy was not like any other patient in their history, informing him that he could run in April however with one adjustment; “if you’re going to do it. I’ll do it with you” said Marshall Posner, chief head-and-neck oncologist at Dana Farber. April 2005, Marshall and Billy ran side by side, Billy had a feeding tube at the time and every few miles Marshall would inject Billy’s tube with water and gatorade. Billy completed the race in qualifying time, 5 hours and 41 minutes, maintaining his over 20-year streak of qualifying times. Billy was extraordinary.
“He has brightened us up here. It’s a treat to take care of someone with Bill’s attitude. He is indomitable”
– Marshall Posner
In his lifetime, Billy was often reminded by medical professionals that he was lucky to be alive. Billy fought cancer for years, undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments, surgical procedures and more. Billy never lost his light, he never lost his passion for being alive. Rather, Billy utilized his experience to support those in need. Billy was a leading force behind the charity Cops for Kids with Cancer which provides financial support and positive experiences for children battling cancer diagnoses. Billy shared his hope, strength and advice with countless individuals facing a diagnosis or dire prognosis. Billy would seek out those in need in order to offer kind words or a safe haven for vulnerability. Billy’s eagerness to help was derived in empathy, Billy understood the financial hardship that a cancer diagnosis can bring not only to the individual but to parents and families. Billy would find jobs, cars, other methods of assistance for parents who fell on hard time amid their child’s diagnosis. Billy was a chairman on the Board of Directors for Cops for Kids with Cancer. Billy found strength in recruiting runners for the Boston Marathon to support the fundraising efforts for this organization. Billy was not someone to fundraise and blindly distribute funds, Billy often met with families directly presenting them funds and understanding their unique circumstance and need.
“To know Billy was to have been given a gift in life”
Every year, Billy would send out words of inspiration to those set out to complete the Boston Marathon. This year, the first without his words, we were still reminded that no matter how this race takes place, he is with us. This year, a gathering of past writings from Billy was compiled as we reminisce on the days we shared. For the runners this week, I hope you find some joy, some inspiration and some laughter in these words as I know they were shared with Billy’s heart as he was always thinking of those around him as he was genuinely proud of what they were accomplishing.
The most important words Billy shared were:
Think finish line, NOT finish time.
Listen to your body. Listen to your needs.
Nobody said life was fair, but remember, it is even less fair if you are stupid.
This is where Billy gave practical advice, wear sunglasses if it’s sunny, cut your toenails, acknowledge that chafing is real, if it is set to rain bring a large trash bag (unused) with a hole cut in for your head, if you are really big then bring a really big trash bag.
Race Morning: Follow your normal routine.
This one was always my dad’s favorite as he laughs stating, what is normal about doing THIS? But then we remind my dad that Billy knew my father was no runner, he was just doing the action of running.
During the Race:
“Whenever you start having a ‘bad hair day’ during the last few miles, simply start calculating all the effort it took to prepare for this day. Don’t just think about your training miles, think about the entire package, including all of your life’s disruptions, which include so many sacrifices. You worked hard to get here, now work hard to finish. Simply be aware that your body now exemplifies functional dementia. Don’t dwell on time, just keep your focus on the finish as your mind and your feet are no longer in sync. In fact, none of your body parts even like any of your other body parts. You will be all screwed up with just one place to go.
Every finish is a victory.
Remember, intellectual impotence is not allowed as the marathon is a very physical mind game. When you finish you will have just completed an accomplishment that will probably be in your obituary. Enjoy the simple pleasure of a hard-earned accomplishment!
Billy and my father shared a special bond, they shared a friendship and they shared dry humor. In 2019, I had a friend complete her first Boston Marathon for Cops for Kids with Cancer. She had never met Billy, however he called her for months leading up to the race, he supported her training and offered advice as she needed it. He was there to congratulate her on her finish. I remember her surprise when she realized that this was just who Billy is, he is caring, kind, motivational and supportive of our goals and our success.
“I can’t think of anyone who was more inspiring. Now he gets a spot in heaven, the man was like a machine. He just never stopped. He was extraordinary.”
We love him, we miss him, we grieve him and we run with him.
Billy left us with heavy hearts yet hearts filled with gratitude and strength, minds filled with aspiration and legs primed with motivation. He is someone that could never be forgotten due to his impact on our world but also his individual impact on our lives.