26.2 miles of respect for life
For 68-year-old marathon runner Deorup "Buddy" James, running is more than just pounding feet into pavement. It's more than driving his body into its totality of possible exertion just to reach that last mile.
For this man, running is about a deeply held respect for life.
Over the last 12 years, the Cornelius resident has completed the 26.2-mile Boston Marathon three times, most recently in April. He runs about 35 miles per week, seven to 10 miles at a time. In 2001 James headed to Las Vegas for his first marathon at the age 52. Since then, he's completed at least four half marathons and 16 full marathons — so many he's lost count.
Born into a family of 12 siblings in Port Mourant, British Guyana, just off the north coast of South America, James said he got his first taste of running as a youngster, jogging a mile or more to get to school and keep up with his friend, who rode alongside James on a bicycle.
He immigrated to Rochester, Minn., at 19 and pursued a college education, becoming a retail businessman. For the last 17 years he's managed the Dollar Tree in Forest Grove.
During college he began running casually, but when he moved to Cornelius in 1995 he discovered the joys of running in the beauty of Oregon's outdoors.
"Just put on a pair of shorts, grab a good pair of shoes and you can go out anytime and run," said James.
Since then he's qualified for the world-renowned Boston Marathon — a race that draws athletes from all corners of the globe — multiple times. To qualify, a runner must complete an approved marathon, such as the Portland Marathon, under a certain time for their age group. Last time he qualified, he had just four minutes before the four-hour cut-off time, clocking in at 3 hours and 56 minutes.
"It's beckoning to me ... I've got to do it one more time," said James, who hopes to run Boston again — although it's an expensive undertaking considering entry fees, plane tickets, lodging and food expenses.
James said his biggest motivation comes from the charities he runs for, raising about $1,000 per marathon.
"If there's no cause the run becomes lackluster," said James.
He recently ran to raise money for his high school alma mater in Guyana, Corentyne Comprehensive High School, where there's a vast difference between the dollar value of U.S. money and Guyana money.
"That gives you the incentive. The pain and the struggle you are going through is nothing compared to what those kids are going through," said James.
During his childhood, James's eldest sister paid for his schooling, and the family is a tight-knit, positive support network. His passion for physical activity has spread to some of his siblings, nieces and nephews, and he's proud of this ripple effect. In fact, James said, it's his philosophy to spread the good everywhere he goes, something he finds a similar philosophy among marathon runners.
There is a strong camaraderie at marathons, along with a beautiful diversity of people. At the Boston Marathon, 30,000 runners raise money for charities as well as thousands of volunteers who come to support the event.
"The cheerleaders give you an extra burst of energy when you're down," he said.
James recalled a young girl standing on the edge of a marathon course, her palm extended, holding a single orange slice. None of the runners ahead of him would take it and he could see she was crestfallen, so he plucked it from her hands and gave her a smile — the moment was magic.
But in 2013, James saw the magic of the Boston Marathon ripped apart by terrorism.
Two homemade bombs detonated near the finish line, killing three and harming hundreds — 16 people lost their limbs as a result of the attack. James finished the race 10 minutes before the bombs detonated, just making it to safety. A woman volunteer led him out of the chaos so he could call his family from several blocks away.
"She was my angel," he said, full of gratitude and sorrow.
He may have been safe from physical harm but he's been changed by the experience and now has another reason to run the Boston Marathon at least one more time.
"I run it because of those people that died," he said, unable to speak of it without tears. "Life is a gift."