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December 6, 2002

Running to his own beat

From: San Diego Union Tribune, CA - 06 Dec 2002

San Diegan, deaf since an early age, has found his rhythm on the road

Don Norcross

December 6, 2002

Kevin McCarey tried explaining to Dan Mansfield that his running form was too mechanical, too stiff.

"This is you," said McCarey, jerking like the Tin Man.

"This is what I want you to do," said the coach, grooving as if he were listening to Barry White.

"I want you to be smooth," said McCarey, "like you're dancing."

There was one problem with the explanation. To dance, one generally must hear music. Mansfield is deaf.

"Kevin," Mansfield replied, "you're telling a deaf guy how to dance."

In the end, McCarey got the message across. At October's Chicago Marathon, near the 19-mile mark, McCarey ran with Mansfield for two blocks. McCarey put a finger to his head and said, "Think. think."

McCarey rolled his hand up and down, adding, "Like a wave, sm-o-o-oth."

Mansfield, who lives in Rancho Bernardo, smiled back and replied, "Sm-o-o-oth."

You want smooth? Mansfield, 30, ran the first half of the marathon in 1 hour, 22 minutes, 45 seconds. His second-half split: 1 hour, 22 minutes, 35 seconds.

"That tells you a person's on," said McCarey.

Mansfield's 2:45:20 finish – a 6:18 per-mile pace – shattered his personal best by more than 12 minutes.

Raised in Poway from the seventh grade, Mansfield became deaf after contracting spinal meningitis when he was 4-1/2. With the help of interpreters, he attended public schools.

He won a spelling bee in second grade. He graduated from Cal with a degree in English. He studied French and earned a master's from North Carolina in recreation management.

An editor for a publishing company, Mansfield played some soccer as a youth, then lacrosse at Poway High and Cal.

At Cal, when teammates wanted to communicate with Mansfield during a match, they'd sometimes tap him on the helmet with their sticks, moving his mother, Carol, to say, "I'd guess I'd rather he was running."

Mansfield is 5-foot-8 and weighs 155 pounds. Playing lacrosse at Cal, he weighed 175.

"I had a little bit of a gut and a lot of muscle," he said. "I did a lot of lifting."

Even at 155, Mansfield's legs look more like a fullback's than a distance runner's. He started running after college to stay in shape. He says he has run seriously the past 4-5 years. He has trained with McCarey, who coaches Olympic triathlon silver medalist Michellie Jones and other elite runners, since July. Like all runners, Mansfield lights up about the prospect of lowering his personal bests.

His 5 kilometer (3.1 miles) PR is 16 minutes, 44 seconds.

"I plan to drop that," he said.

His 10K PR: 36:04.

"I plan to drop that, too."

Mansfield communicates by reading lips. He talks but sometimes can be difficult to understand. He has developed sign language to communicate with running partners. Scratching the top of his hand means slow down. A hammering motion means pick up the pace.

Some runners rely on their hearing to sense a runner approaching from behind. Yet Mansfield says being deaf is no hindrance.

"I only pay attention to people in front of me and try to run them down," he said.

McCarey says it's obvious that Mansfield loves running.

"At the end (of a workout) he's smiling, he's pumped," said McCarey. "He says thanks for the workout. The look on his face says it's fun."

For Mansfield, part of the joy comes from interacting with others who share his passion.

"If you have a bad workout, you've got friends saying, 'That's OK. I had a bad workout, too,' " he said. "They encourage you."

Being deaf has created awkward situations that Mansfield can laugh at. Like when he was waiting at an airline gate and an announcement came over the PA system, saying "Dan Mansfield, please come to the podium for boarding assistance."

Of course, he couldn't hear the announcement. Besides, he didn't want any special privileges. He wanted to board with his friend and the other passengers.

Men with large mustaches covering their lips can be difficult for him to understand. Or people who barely move their lips. He gets offended when people try talking to him in an exaggerated slow manner.

"It's very patronizing," he said. "You can talk normal. I can understand you fine."

Mansfield's previous marathon PR was set last year at Chicago. But his finishing picture from the 2001 race was not a thing of beauty. He staggered to the line, hunched over. Down the stretch this year, that picture, which he had long ago discarded, kept flashing in his mind. This year's shot, he determined, would be Runner's World-cover worthy.

"My arms were up," recalled Mansfield. "I was looking at the camera with a big smile."

© Copyright 2002 Union-Tribune Publishing Co. .