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“His Life Had Value”: Kara Goucher’s Grandfather Calvin Haworth Loses Battle with COVID

Haworth was a lifelong runner who introduced Olympian Kara Goucher to the sport.

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Calvin Haworth, the grandfather of professional runner and two-time Olympian Kara Goucher, died on Oct. 6 in Duluth, Minnesota of coronavirus, Goucher said. He was 96 years old.

Goucher announced the death of her grandfather on social media on Tuesday. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 only two weeks ago today, on Sept. 24, following an outbreak in his retirement community, according to Goucher. Haworth suffered from dementia, but was otherwise healthy, she added. Haworth left behind Ola Jean Haworth, his wife of 73 years who he met at Ottawa University in Kansas, along with three children—including Goucher’s mother, Patty Wheeler—nine grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren.

Goucher, Wheeler, and Goucher’s younger sister, Kendall Schoolmeester, described Haworth to Women’s Running as a dedicated family man, a community activist who spent years advocating on behalf of the victims of drunk driving, and a source of deep inspiration who instilled a love of running and a profound sense of possibility in each of them.

“He was a lifelong runner, until he couldn’t run anymore,” Goucher told Women’s Running. “It was definitely a bond between us, what running did for our lives.”

                           Haworth and Goucher after a race in 1993. Photo: Courtesy Kara Goucher

A passion for running formed a family’s bond

Born in 1924 in Kansas as one of six brothers, Haworth began running as a child, when work obligations prevented him from taking part in organized sports, said Goucher, who serves as an athlete advisor for Oiselle, the Seattle-based women’s running company.

Haworth went on to run on Minnesota’s trails through his 70s before taking to an AlterG Anti-Gravity treadmill in his late 80s, Goucher says.

“He was just a pure runner, it wasn’t about racing for him,” she says. “He just loved the act of running more than anything and being involved in it.”

Goucher credits her grandfather with introducing her to the sport that eventually became her life’s passion. In 1984, Haworth brought 6-year-old Goucher to the starting line of a kids’ mile race in Duluth, Minnesota, where Goucher grew up, 150 miles north of the capital of St. Paul. After the gun went off, she made it only a few strides before she tripped and fell, bloodying her knees. Haworth thought she would be done with the race, but Goucher was undeterred: “Come on, come on, they’re getting away from us,” she recalled scolding him.

The story became a favorite of Haworth’s, especially after Goucher made her first Olympic team in 2008.

“Everyone in his retirement community is so annoyed by that story,” she adds.

Two years before Haworth introduced Goucher to the sport, he took his daughter, Patty Wheeler—Goucher’s mother—out for a run to help cope with her grief after her husband and Goucher’s father, Mirko Grgas, was killed by a drunk driver while commuting to work in New York City in 1982. Soon after, Wheeler moved to Minnesota with her three daughters to be closer to her parents. Haworth thought running would help his daughter cope with her grief—and it did, she says.

“We would probably run a couple of miles through the neighborhood, then we’d get back and I’d say, ‘I think I can run more, Dad,’” says Wheeler.

The pair soon developed another shared passion: fighting to end drunk driving and advocating for victims, in Grgas’ memory. They set up a local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, gave speeches to local community groups about the dangers of drunk driving, and eventually received a statewide award in Minnesota for their advocacy efforts.

As his three granddaughters (Goucher, Schoolmeester, and their older sister, Kelly) adjusted to life without their father, Haworth was a source of continued warmth.

“He was comforting in a time that was really difficult,” says Goucher.

Haworth with Schoolmeester after she won the Minnesota state qualifying meet in 1996. “I can still feel that hug to this day,” Schoolmeester says. Photo: Courtesy Kara Goucher

He was also a source of support as Goucher and Schoolmeester began their running careers. Haworth helped them strategize for their middle school and high school cross-country and track meets, where he was a known—and loud—spectator.

“He came to all my races. He was so loud—he had a whistle and he would just yell, yell, yell, ‘Pour it on,’” Goucher says. “Everybody knew him, and he would cheer the last person in. He sort of became a grandpa to a lot of other people.”

And though Haworth was—in Goucher’s words—a “track nerd” who wore a stopwatch around his neck and wrote down his granddaughter’s splits, the pair’s early strategizing efforts were often more optimistic than realistic.

“We were so bad at it. We were like, ‘We’ll go out super fast, then we’ll slow down and gain some energy for the final push,’ which I now know is the worst way to run.”

But not all of Haworth’s informal coaching efforts were moonshots: Schoolmeester credits her grandfather with helping her break 2:20 in the 800-meter run as a senior in high school and with helping her win the mile and break the state record at the state meet that year.

“He had tried to help me realize, ‘You can do this, it’s just a little bit, it’s not as much as it seems,’” says Schoolmeester, who went on to run at the University of Colorado.

And one of Haworth’s other predictions also came true: While watching the track and field events at the 1996 Olympics on television together, he told Goucher that she could become an Olympian one day.

“He said, ‘In four years, you could be there,’” Goucher says. “It took 12 years, but he thought that big for me.”

After running for the University of Colorado, where she was a three-time NCAA champion, Goucher did, indeed, become an Olympian (twice). She finished ninth in the 10,000-meter run in Beijing in 2008 and earned tenth place in the marathon in London in 2012. And in 2016, she finished fourth at the Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles.

Throughout her career, Goucher landed on podiums around the world: She clinched the silver medal in the 10,000-meter race at the 2007 World Championships; third place at the New York City Marathon—her first—the following year; and third place at the Boston Marathon in 2009.

Goucher characterized Haworth as a source of support both when she succeeded and when she struggled in her sport. He “100 percent” solidified her 2015 decision to speak out against her former coach, Alberto Salazar, who has since received a four-year ban from the sport for violating anti-doping rules from the United States Anti-Doping Agency.

“I called [my grandfather], and I said, ‘I’m scared,’” Goucher says of her hesitation before speaking out. “He said, ‘You can do it.’ Integrity was so important to him.”

Haworth honed his sense of integrity as a military policeman serving in World War II in Germany after the Nazis had been defeated, Goucher says. After he returned from his service, he spent most of his life working in radio and television, then owned a burger restaurant and later a video store near Duluth.

                Goucher with Haworth, her grandmother, Ola Jean, and her son, Colt Photo: Courtesy Kara Goucher

COVID-19 brought a ‘violent’ end

Though his life was long and full, it was cut short far too soon, and his experience of COVID-19 was full of suffering, Goucher says. The family had taken months of precautions, and she had not seen him in person since February.

“It was so violent and it was so much suffering,” she says. “This is real life. We followed all the protocols.”

Goucher has made clear her disappointment in President Trump’s handling of coronavirus: She tweeted that President Trump’s cavalier attitude towards the virus was “offensive and tone deaf” as Haworth was “struggling to take his last breaths.”

“[My grandfather] was suffering so horribly, I thought, ‘Trump should see this. I think he should be in here and watching people suffer,’” Goucher says. “I don’t think if you saw humans suffering at this level you would say anything negative or dismissive or do anything but want to help.”

“I am disappointed in [Trump’s] administration and in how it’s been handled,” she added. “It’s really hard to see it politicized, to see human compassion politicized.”

When the family gathered around Haworth’s bed in personal protective equipment and via phone on Tuesday night, they told him how much his life meant, Goucher says.

“My mom thanked him for being such a force in her life, my sister told him how much she loved him right before his breath slowed down, my sister thanked him for being our dad, and I just said, ‘Say hi to our dad and to all your brothers,’” she says. “As horrible as it was, it ended very beautifully.”