The Society lost its oldest friend today. W. LaGrand Nielsen was born on October 3, 1907, and became a U.S. Army Dental Surgeon until his retirement. It was in that capacity that he treated, among many others, then Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who later would become General and then President of the United States of America.
After retirement, Nielsen’s passion for long-distance running played an increasing role in his life. He came to the First Nemead in 1996 at the age of 89 (“almost 90” he often said) and competed both in the stadion race and the 7.5 km. Footsteps of Herakles race.
Seen here being congratulated by Slave George Katsoulis as he crossed the finish line for the Footsteps race in 2000, he was back with us in 2004, determined to finish the race which he did, refusing all offers of assistance, even though he entered the stadium only while the closing ceremonies were under way. He was 97 years old, but again noted that his true age was “almost 98.” It was his intention to return for the Fourth Nemead in 2008 at the age of “almost 102” but broke his leg during his daily exercising routine a few weeks before the games.
As noted already in 1996 (“A Day at the Races” ) at the conclusion of the Footsteps of Herakles “ . . . throughout the stadium during those few moments as Nielsen ran on toward that ancient stone line – as he embodied the indomitable spirit of our human race, of the Olympic idea – men and women and children clapped their hands and cheered and wept and jumped with the joy of life and hugged one another, and we were one people.”
LaGrand Nielsen inspired us and touched the best part of us. We shall miss him.