Posted: Aug 9, 2012 5:19 PM by Andrew Masuda
It never fails. Every Olympics, athletes not only capture gold medals, but they also capture our hearts. A Santa Maria couple, Mike and Shannon Larrabee, is sharing their story about an Olympian to inspire others.
"I think when you watch the Olympics that behind each athlete is a story and there's a story of sacrifice that they made," said Shannon Larrabee, the daughter-in-law of a 1964 U.S. Olympian.
"It was pretty amazing. It's a really good adventure with it and I think that's what wish I carried in my life," said Mike Larrabee, Jr., who was referring to an adventure that included defying odds and critics.
His father, Mike Larrabee, was a star runner at Ventura High and USC. But injuries prevented him from trying out for the U.S. Olympic Team in 1956 and again in 1960. But in 1964, at the age of 30, he won the 400 meter final at the U.S. Olympic Trials to qualify for Tokyo. His time of 44.9 seconds tied the world record. But as he prepared to represent the United States, he was criticized by a New York sportswriter. "He wrote an article that said if Mike Larrabee was a real American, he would step down and make room for a more promising and youthful person to bring home an American gold medal," recalled Mike, Jr.
His father didn't bring one gold medal home, he brought two of them. He won the 400 meter run and ran a leg in the gold medal-winning 4x400 m relay. He made good in a statement he made earlier to his wife that he would not accept anything other than a gold medal.
He raised his family in Santa Maria, ran a beverage distribution company and always remained active. He joined a hiking club that climbed every Thursday. However in 2001, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer and given a few weeks to live. Larrabee took that as a challenge and planned his chemotherapy sessions so they wouldn't interfere with his weekly hikes. He again defied the odds and lived two years, until he passed away in 2003 at the age of 69.
A bench to honor Mike and his memory still sits at the top of Bishop Peak in San Luis Obispo. "Every time I touch it and say hello," said Mike, Jr., who says he hikes to the top of Bishop Peak and sits on the bench at least once a week.
Back in July, Shannon and Mike found another way to honor his memory. They had a mural made with a picture they discovered of Mike crossing the finish line first in the 400 m race. "To me, it's like a work of art," said Mike, Jr. since he never saw his father race in person. It is a work of art that includes quotes from the haters like 'Too Old, Should Step Down, So-So Runners, No Chance and So-So Runner.' It also portrays the pure joy of achieving your dream.
"When I watch the Olympics I wonder what drove him to do that. You know, it's an extremely painful race and he seemed to have all the odds against him. But he wanted to do it, so he did," said a tearful and proud Mike, Jr.
The Larrabees, who admit the 400 meter race is their favorite event to watch, are sharing his story to honor his memory and to inspire others to always go for gold.
Mike Larrabee was enshrined into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2003. The football stadium at Ventura High School is also named in his honor.
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