Man who died in Twin Cities Marathon was experienced runner

Updated: October 2, 2006, 7:36 PM ET
Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- Running was a family affair for George Spears.

Spears, 49, of Minneapolis, passed his love of running along to his sons. He and his oldest son, George Spears Jr., 26, set out together in the Twin Cities Marathon on Sunday, but the younger Spears pulled ahead of his father early in the race.

So he didn't learn until after he crossed the finished line at the State Capitol nearly five hours later that his father had collapsed from an apparent heart attack 6 miles into the race, near Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis. He died later at Hennepin County Medical Center.

"He never smoked and never drank in his life," said his son, Chester Spears. "He was always a healthy guy."

The elder Spears was a member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, a social worker for Hennepin County and the father of seven children and many foster children.

"He followed a good path," said his daughter-in-law, Meredith Morgan. He was a familiar sight on the running trails in south Minneapolis, she said.

Spears ran his first Twin Cities Marathon in 1987, she said. He had no known health problems, and had just had a physical, she said.

"There was nothing wrong with my dad," Chester Spears said. "He had a good diet, and he trained really hard for the marathon."

Spears' wife, Melanie, and other relatives were waiting for him at the 10-mile mark, Morgan said. They waited until almost all the runners had passed, but never saw him.

"She couldn't figure it out," Morgan said. "Then they came home and got the call."

Morgan said Spears was widely known in the Indian community through his job working with Indian children, and because of the many relationships he had formed with foster children.

Chester Spears said his father suffered a gash on his head, apparently when he fell, and the family was not sure if that contributed to the death.

Spears was the second runner to die in the history of the Twin Cities Marathon. The first was in 1989 when a 40-year-old man running his first marathon collapsed and died after crossing the finish line.

People who have heart attacks during marathons usually appear to be in the peak of health, said Dr. Bill Roberts, medical director for the Twin Cities Marathon.

A second runner also collapsed Sunday, just short of the finish line. He was resuscitated with an external defibrillator machine that got his heart beating again, and he was taken to Regions Hospital. His name was not released.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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