SILVERTON – At the start line of the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run, it’s easy to be awe struck by the world class mountain runners as they navigate the check-in line and pick up their GPS tracking devices. They exchange smiles and stories before the 6 a.m. start of the grueling 100.5-mile race through the San Juan Mountains.
Inside Silverton Gymnasium, it was a smile missing Friday morning that stood out amongst the 145 runners, their crews and the staff of the now world-famous race. It wasn’t four-time defending champion Kilian Jornet’s smile, either. It was the smile and greeting from a man who never ran an ultra-marathon in his life that was missed. It was the smile of Leadville’s Bill Dooper.
Dooper died after a series of strokes on April 4 in Littleton. He was 83. As the Hardrock 100 celebrated the start of its 25th running, on the mind of many was the man who spent 25 years cheering on the athletes.
“Bill Dooper was one of my best friends,” said Bryon Powell, a 2018 Hardrock runner and the editor-and-chief of iRunFar.com, the authority when it comes to covering ultrarunning across the U.S. “He was a champion of everyone. Whether you were Kilian Jornet coming back to win another race or somebody he had never met before, he was going to be your friend. He cheered harder than anyone else.”
Dooper’s death was mourned across the ultra community, from Jornet, the world’s most famous mountain runner, to two-time women’s Hardrock winner Anna Frost and countless others.
“Bill Dooper was ultrarunning’s superfan,” Jornet said in a post to Facebook on the day of Dooper’s death. “He have (sic) been following the races for decades, knowing every detail, every history behind, and was cheering in every corner of Hardrock 100.”
Dooper never ran an ultra-marathon, but he became a fan by following the Leadville Trail 100 Mile in 1988 and attended every one after until his death. He began traveling to ultra events across Colorado and followed the runners with devotion even though he didn’t have a computer to track them as they ran across the U.S. and around the globe. His resource became Powell and Meghan Hicks of iRunFar. He would call after big races and take notes. He would bring a notebook to each race he attended and was eager to talk to the runners and others about who their top picks were to win each race. By making friends along the way, Dooper stayed as well informed as anyone.
“He touched everybody in a really positive manner,” said Durango’s Dakota Jones, a professional ultrarunner. “Two years ago I saw him at Hardrock, and he came and talked to me and had his list of who he thought the top 10 was going to be. He was really into the scene. You would only see him at three or four races a year, and he wasn’t even part of the sport until he was in his 60s, but he embodied what we love most of the sport.”
Hardrock prides itself in providing a sense of community and family. The 145 runners are selected via a lottery, with a predetermined number of veterans and newcomers welcomed to the race, making it a bit of a reunion each year while the family continues to grow. Dooper’s death was a big loss to the family. At the start line of this year’s race, rubber bracelets that read “Sooper Dooper 1934-2018” were made available. Hicks also organized a memorial for Dooper May 19 in Leadville. It included a group run.
“He added that element of support and enthusiasm,” said Hardrock race director Dale Garland. “All the runners knew him, and he knew them all by name and was a real positive force for them. Hardrock and Leadville were his two favorites. He was another part of the family.”
In recent years, Dooper was timid of the drive from Leadville to Silverton. He was never sure if he would make it to Hardrock, but inevitably he would find a ride to be at the race. People would make arrangements for him to stay at The Avon hotel in Silverton.
“People felt good giving back to Bill Dooper,” Powell said. “He was a friend to everyone. Dale Garland, the Hardrock board of directors and staff members are all super friendly, but Bill was part of that at Hardrock, too. He made it a closer community.”
Dooper was from Wisconsin and graduated from Wilmot Union High School. He served five years in the United States Army Reserve and operated gas stations. He moved to Silverthorne in 1988 and eventually Leadville in 1995. The mountains and coffee shops became his havens.
While Dooper wasn’t at the Hardrock on Friday morning with his usual cup of coffee in hand, another part of him was. At the memorial service in Leadville, Powell was able to acquire Dooper’s famed Green Bay Packers hat. Dooper was frequently photographed at races wearing the white Packers hat with green and yellow trim.
“That was something I had seen him in through the years,” Powell said of the hat. “When he passed, I was hoping I’d get to do this. I got one of his favorite Green Bay Packers hat. He never ran an ultra, as big of a fan as he was. He did trails and ran, but never an ultra. So, I have his Green Bay Packers hat this week, and I’ll have Bill with me the whole time, and I hope to get that hat around 100 miles once for him.”
At Dooper’s memorial in Leadville, his huge collection of memorabilia was on display. He had collected shirts, hats, belt buckles and medals he had either purchased or been gifted over the years.
People loved to give Dooper gear, and he also loved to gift. A couple years ago, Dooper bought every keychain at the Hardrock merchandise table. Jones and Powell described them as a chunk of metal about 2½ inches in size.
“He came up and said, ‘I got something for ya,’” Jones recalled. “It was this Hardrock key chain. It was something I would never buy, but the fact Bill gave it to me, I put it in this secret console in my truck and kept it with a few things I keep that are really important to me, and it’s been there ever since. I didn’t want to lose it or trivialize it by making it part of my daily life and putting it on my keys.
“When he died this year, it was taken out of that console, and I know keep it in a pretty prominent place. It helps me remember the spirit he had. It’s funny how that works.”