Bob O’Connor (BS ‘68, MA ‘73, PhD ‘76) wasn’t going to let a ruptured Achilles tendon stop him from doing what he loves to do. And what he loves to do is run.
O’Connor, a psychologist and professor, has been a competitive runner for more than 50 years. Like so many good things, it started by accident.
“I thought I was going out for gymnastics, but I showed up in the wrong place,” he says. “It turned out I had a gift for running.”
In his years as an undergraduate at Loyola, which he attended on a track scholarship, O’Connor was named a three-time all-American and excelled at 600 yards. He still holds several school records. In 1968, having just graduated, O’Connor was an Olympic hopeful. As luck would have it, he was able to attend the games as a spectator, watching many athletes against whom he had competed. Among the historic events he witnessed in person were Bob Beamon’s long jump, which beat the previous world record by almost two feet, and John Carlos’s and Tommie Smith’s iconic Black Power salute.
O’Connor continued at Loyola as a graduate student, teaching undergraduates in the psychology department, and running, training, and coaching part time—although he competed with the University of Chicago Track Club, a national powerhouse. In 1969, he set a world record in the two-mile relay with that team.
Despite many successes, O’Connor says that some of his most memorable races offered lessons in defeat. In 1967, he competed at the invite-only Melrose Games. There were only four people in his event—600 yards—and he had recently missed the world record by a tenth of a second.
“I was the skinny guy in lane 4,” he recalls. “I was so pumped and so anxious, and I ran so fast that I was far ahead of the world record at 400 yards. I could hear the footsteps behind me, and I thought, ‘There’s no way I could lose this.’ I came up the last turn and it felt like someone shot me in the leg. All four of us hit the line at the same time. I came in fourth.”
As O’Connor completed his education and moved into his career as a clinical psychologist and professor (he taught at Loyola from 1969–72 and 1985–97), he continued running, eventually expanding his repertoire to include marathons. In 2000, he ran the Chicago Marathon and competed in the Senior Olympics. In 2001, he ruptured his Achilles tendon. Surgery was successful, but the wound became infected. The surgeon told him he’d never run again.
“I was on crutches for two years,” O’Connor says. “I literally had to learn how to walk again. Then I could jog a few steps.” In 2003, he began to be able to run. In 2005, he started to compete again. In November 2013, he completed his first marathon since the injury.
These days, O’Connor teaches at Dominican University and is in private practice. He has four children and four grandsons. His wife, Maureen, is an alumna of Mundelein College. O’Connor coaches track and cross-country at a grade school in River Forest and runs every day with the Oak Park Runners Club. He was recently named a Personal Best athlete by the National Senior Games Association. And although he also bikes, swims, skis, and does yoga, it’s running that has Bob O’Connor’s heart.
“I love the peace and solitude of it,” he says. “I love to have my body in motion. I love running. It’s my thing.”
It certainly is.