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Running didn’t come naturally to John Dodds ’73. He didn’t run during his years as a government and law major, and he didn’t lace them up as a law student at George Washington University, or later, when he was a civilian attorney for the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General Corps.

He does recall the running boom in the 1970s and “hearing about this new sort of shoe with waffle-type soles and the swoosh logo of this new company called Nike. Runners were the people you looked at as kind of skinny people,” he says.

Then, in 1997, he had an ID photo taken for a position at the Pentagon. The uncompromising lens “showed a person with a pudgy face who was carrying around too much weight on his five-foot, eight-inch frame,” Dodds says. A few days later, the monthly Air Force magazine arrived in the mail.

“In it,” he remembers, “there was an item about the inaugural Air Force marathon, and it hit me that maybe I could run this marathon and lose the weight. For me, I automatically associated losing weight with running.”

He trained for and participated in the Air Force marathon — and it changed his life. Today, eight years after running that 26-mile course, and at age 54, his passion for running has taken him on about 80 marathons. Along the way, he advanced his running to the next level — ultramarathons, the grueling, grind-it-out races undertaken by only the most dedicated runners.

Most recently, Dodds participated in the 135-mile Badwater ultramarathon, which took him from the lowest point in the United States, 282 feet below sea level, to the near-summit of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 states. Not only did he place ninth among the 81 runners who started the race and 67 who finished it, he also raised $5,500 for the United Cerebral Palsy Research and Educational Foundation. Dodds’ 14-year-old son, Matthew, was diagnosed as having this brain damage when he was one.

The past few years, he has run several other ultras, including South Dakota’s 100-mile Lean Horse, at which he placed second, Virginia’s 100-mile Old Dominion race, where he was third, and Oklahoma’s Heartland 100 in October, where he finished fifth.

The running lawyer says his choice of profession was influenced by Klaus Heberle, whose Constitutional Law course Dodds enjoyed, in part because Heberle used texts that were used by law school students.

“I took a couple of his courses my junior year, and it was that year I decided I wanted to be a lawyer,” he says.

While some might look at Dodds’ age and assume he is descending the peak of his running career, his times in his Forrest Gump-like predilection are improving with age.

“Last year, I had four personal best times, including the Boston Marathon,” he says, “where I ran a personal best of three hours, 13 minutes. Before that, my personal best was six years ago.”

Categorized in: Alumni Profiles