Fifty years and a fortnight after his passing, James D. Giencke was inducted into the Bedford High School Sports Hall of Fame during ceremonies Saturday night.
Giencke, valedictorian of the class of 1971, began his varsity career as a versatile freshman distance runner in 1967 and excelled for four years, battling a terminal illness as a senior. He was nominated by his teammates, who used the occasion to testify about their friend’s leadership and inspiration.
Several of them were present at the event hosted by the Doubletree Bedford Glen. Giencke’s sister Patty also attended.
Jim Goldie, two years behind the nominee, was the spokesperson for the group. Steve Hermann, Don Stowell, and Karl Gerdes joined him at the induction; it was the first time they had reunited in 50 years. Goldie also delivered words of support from the coach of the 1970 cross-country team, Bill Keup, who spends winters in Florida.
Giencke was 19 when he died on Nov. 19, 1971. “Though it has been a half-century, Jimmy remains undiminished in our memories,” his teammates wrote in their letter of nomination. “Jimmy’s courage, commitment, leadership, competitiveness, and athletic performance, as well as the love and respect that his teammates had and continue to have for him. “
He ran cross-country, winter track, and spring track over all four years of high school. Stowell called him “the face of Bedford track.” Teammates remembered his training runs to Walden Pond and back when it was unusual to see solo runners along the roads. Dave Thurlow wrote that he saw Giencke “flyin” by Page School.
“He competed at a high level from the very start, placing first among BHS runners in two races as a freshman and winning his first of many varsity letters,” the nomination related. “He was a remarkably versatile runner, winning cross-country, two-mile, one-mile, 1,000-yard, 600-yard, and 4 by 320-yard relay races as anchor leg. Giencke also played the baritone horn in the BHS marching band.
The letter focused on Giencke’s “extraordinary courage” as a BHS senior. “Early in the 1970 cross-country season, Don Stowell and Dave Thurlow remember Jimmy showing them a lump protruding from his upper leg that looked like an embedded softball. At that point, Jimmy simply passed it off as a hernia.”
After winning the second dual meet, “Jimmy was diagnosed with a virulent form of cancer for which there was no cure,” the letter continues.” He underwent surgery and radiation therapy that fall. Coach Keup remembers that Jimmy asked permission to stay on the team, though he would have to miss some practices to receive treatment.” He competed in seven of the remaining meets, leading his teammates in the finale at Lincoln-Sudbury.
Gerdes recalled his teammate’s leadership. “I caught up with Jim, something that never, ever happened for me. I ran beside him for a few seconds, asking him what was wrong, and wondering what I could do to help. Jim snapped out something short and angry, more or less ‘get the hell up there and beat them!’ I took 30 seconds off my best time that day.”
Giencke was a member of the indoor track team his senior year, his final competitive season. He was undefeated at 600 yards in all seven races of the regular season. He lost the Dual County League event by what Stowell said was hundredths of a second.”
Two weeks later the spring track season began. “By then, Jimmy was too ill to practice or compete, though he signed up for the team,” Goldie related. “Jimmy qualified for the April 19, 1971, Boston Marathon, though he was not able to run,” Goldie remembers at one practice being surprised to see Giencke jogging slowly along the far turn of the cinder track. When he came alongside Jimmy, he said, “I’ll be back running soon.”
The teammates had vivid memories of Giencke’s personality and character. “What sticks in my mind, though, is the way Jim led the team: he had an incredibly sharp wit and was quick to come up with a quip, but never insulting or mean to another team member,” Gerdes wrote in the nomination letter. “And he led by example. Jim practiced hard, and his attitude rubbed off on the rest of us. During our races, he would offer encouragement to his teammates.”
“After so many years, I cannot tell you how many races Jim may have won, or what his times were in the distance track events. What I can tell you is that his determination to be the best he possibly could, his encouragement for the rest of us to do the same, his ready smile and wit, are things which still echo in my mind.”
Herrmann noted that Giencke was his inspiration to run competitively, and he eventually competed for Boston University and taught and coached track at Hingham High School for 25 years.
Goldie told the induction event about teammates riding their bicycles to Boston in the summer of 1971 to visit Giencke in the hospital. “We still remember being shocked to see the fastest guy we all knew, lying in a hospital bed and looking so weak.”
“Sharing our thoughts about Jimmy has brought us together, as Jimmy did back when we were running with him on those teams. So many thoughts and memories beyond those pertaining to his competitive running have been expressed,” Goldie related. Other teammates who signed the nomination letter were Barre Normann, George Reutenik, and Ramsey Bahrawy, who remembered Giencke’s singing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” under his breath as he ran, “to keep a steady pace and occupy his mind ”
“We believe that Jimmy’s induction will both honor Jimmy and the Hall of Fame—and that it will serve as an inspiration and joy to Bedford High School runners, past, present, and future,” the nominators wrote.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected], or 781-983-1763