RCW: Continuing a Dalzell Legacy
Flashback to the weekend of April 6, 2018, in Tempe, Arizona. The Kansas men’s and women’s track & field teams are competing in the Sun Angel Classic. Dorie Dalzell focuses as she is competing in the 800-meter run representing the Jayhawks wearing “Kansas” across her chest. On your mark … get set … go. As she passes by, she hears a faint mention of her name.
“And there is Dorie Dalzell from Kansas,” the announcer said. “Her grandfather was on the 1953 National Championship team, and her father was also a Big 12 team champion.”
Every track & field meet can be seen as a symbol of a runner’s effort and accomplishments, a time to show off the seasons of hard work and anticipation for the moment when the gun is fired. For Dorie, this is just another opportunity for her father and grandfather’s legacy to be honored at the University of Kansas.
The Dalzell family carries a unique legacy at the University of Kansas. Carrying on the passion of running, the selflessness of being a teammate, and the grit to work hard, making them leaders. Three generations of captains. Beginning in 1954, Art was appointed captain for the Jayhawks, the season following the victory for him and his teammates at the NCAA Cross Country Championship. Around 30 years later, his son, Greg, would carry on the same characteristics and strong qualities to be selected as captain in 1986. For the 2017 season, Dorie got an unexpected surprise, being able to be the third Dalzell with the title of captain for the Jayhawk track squad.
“The biggest moment for me at Kansas so far was when I was appointed captain for the team,” Dorie explained. “It was really overwhelming. I knew my grandpa and dad had both been captains, so I always kind of wanted to be one, but I didn’t want to express it outwardly. To be a captain, and know that I had kept that going in our family, it felt amazing. I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen, we don’t always have captains on the team and they always changed how many there are. It was nerve racking, but it has been a really cool thing to get to share that.”
Art Dalzell passed away around nine months before his granddaughter would be born, although, at his son Greg’s wedding, he did not hesitate to share his vision of how the family legacy would be carried on.
“My parents got married when my mom was 25 and my dad was 28,” Dorie said. “At their wedding, my grandpa gave a toast, and he mentioned in the toast that he was so excited to see where their daughter ended up running. My mom didn’t have me until she was 30, so she wasn’t pregnant, and there was no way to know that they would have a girl. He thought he was being funny, and making a joke, and implying that I would go to KU. There was no way he would’ve known that I would be a girl and that would be a runner, and be at KU. It’s crazy that he said that, and it worked out.”
Running was always second nature to Dorie. Something the Dalzell family always shared as a special bond since she was little.
“We had club track where I lived, so I started running at the age of four, but no one told me the point was to try to win,” Dorie laughed. “I’d just joke around. I didn’t think I figured out until I was nine that you’re supposed to try to win. It took me a while, but after that I started trying. I didn’t get as serious about it until high school. My dad started coaching and that’s when I started realizing that I liked working hard and (that) this is something I wanted to be serious about, and get as much benefit out (it) as I can. In track, a lot of it is the amount of work you put in is what you get back out. My grandpa coached my dad in high school, and then my dad coached me in high school, so that’s a very special bond that we have. It made us really close because we spent a lot of time together.”
Despite her grandpa’s toast, the road to where Dorie would be running was unknown to her and her parents. Kansas had almost always been out of the picture for Dorie, questioning if she wanted to follow in the same footsteps as her father and grandfather. Her college decision was something that was never pressured, as her parents encouraged her to make a decision of her own. After visiting Lawrence for her official visit with the track & field team, it all came together.
“My dad didn’t talk a ton about being a Jayhawk when I was growing up,” Dorie said. “I never felt how much it would mean to him if I came here. I think he wanted to be separated from that, so it would be my choice. I didn’t have a good appreciation for what my grandpa had done. I knew he was good at track, but I didn’t fully understand it.”
“It’s funny because for a while she had no intention of going to KU,” Greg explained. “She was looking at several other schools, then I think once she went on her recruiting trip and Coach (Stanley) Redwine took a picture of her under her grandfather’s picture in the Hall of Fame, I think that is when she gathered that this might be the place for her. Then once she did sign with KU, all of the questions we had of what might be the best school for her, they all kind of went away, and we just knew it was a good decision.”
“This was my last visit,” Dorie said. “I came here thinking it would make my dad happy if I at least looked at KU, but I hadn’t done any research or looked into it. I loved the campus, I didn’t think it would be this pretty, and I loved Coach Redwine, we got along really well. I could tell he would always have my back, and that he would always believe in me, and that he would make sure I would do my absolute best under him.”
Being able to share experiences at the same college has brought about many laughs and conversations among the Dalzells. The visuals of running at the same places, and sharing some of the same workouts, create for a unique experience for both Dorie and her father.
One place in particular sticks out when Dorie thinks of certain places that have a significant meaning to her family. A place that has special meaning to all of the Dalzell runners is down a gravel road, in the country side of Burnett lane, Rim Rock Farm.
“One of the special things for me is that there is a plaque out at Rim Rock Farm that’s dedicated to four men, and one of them is my grandpa,” Dorie said. “We do a lot of workouts out there so every time we’re out there I see that. My dad also helped build Rim Rock. It originally was just a big plot of land and Coach (Bob) Timmons bought the land so it could become a cross country course. He had his athletes move all of the rocks and run it to a course, so when we do workouts out there, those are both things I think about a lot.”
Many specific places in Lawrence bring back certain memories for Greg. When being back in Kansas, he never fails to be reminded of certain moments and look back and laugh.
“Whenever I go back I drive by Coach (Bill) Easton’s house,” Greg said. “He was my dad’s coach, and he was a great coach. I remember one time, I was a freshman and my fraternity was having a party the weekend of the Kansas Relays, so I stayed at Coach Easton’s house instead. I was sleeping in his basement, and this place was basically like a Hall of Fame. It had all of these pictures of Olympians on the walls, and all these world record holders. It totally psyched me out, I ran awful the next day in my race. The weight of all these ghosts looking over me completely freaked me out. I felt like I didn’t belong there at all. The amount of history in that room was pretty cool. It probably didn’t help my race.”
Easton is just one of the people who have impacted Greg along the way. Dorie and her father have both been immersed with support and love from people who have been cheering them on since the day they stepped onto the KU campus.
“When I ran at KU I was often approached by my dad’s teammates or people who used to watch him compete,” Greg said “For me, it was a nice connection to the past and the history of the program. I think Dorie has the same experience now. Visiting with my old teammates and also some of the guys my dad used to run with like Al Frame and Tom Rupp. (They were) Teammates with my dad on the NCAA championship team. It’s an extended family.”
Being able to carry on the legacy of Art Dalzell is something that not only means a lot to his son and granddaughter, but to those who used to wear the same uniform running right beside him in the 1950’s.
“If I had gone (to school) somewhere else I would have had a great experience I’m sure,” Dorie said. “Going to Kansas has been more than a good experience for me, it’s meant a lot to my dad and to my family. It’s really neat to meet alumni that are just excited that I go here, because they knew my grandpa and it means a lot to them too. That has been really cool, and that wouldn’t have happened anywhere else.”
Art Dalzell’s statistics stand out on paper, and his accomplishments will never be forgotten. The most important impact that Art had on the program will never be able to be shown in numbers, or through a trophy, but through the personal joy he showed to those around him.
“It’s funny, because I think it speaks to his character; when people come up and talk to me about him, the first or second thing that they talk about is some funny thing he said or did, it’s more of a personal nature, and then further on in the conversations the accomplishments come up,” Greg said. “He really had a big personality. I always enjoy hearing about that side, I already know what all of the statistics are. I really enjoy those personal anecdotes more than anything else.
“I’m proud of his accomplishments, and whenever I’m up in Lawrence I take guests to look at his pictures on the wall in the Hall of Fame and I’m incredibly proud of that. I’m proud of my daughter, who also followed in those footsteps. To have three generations of captains, on a Big 12 team, that’s a pretty unique thing. I’m really proud about the leadership skills that she possesses and to be a part of that.”
The more time she spent following in her family’s footsteps, the more Dorie found out about herself as a runner. Throughout her high school and freshman year of college one would know Dorie as a sprinter. Sophomore year brought about a realization for Dorie, that she was not a sprinter, but would find her peak in middle distance, just as did her father and grandfather.
“My dad was an 800/miler and my grandpa was an 800/miler in cross country,” Dorie explained. “I ran the 400 all through high school, and my dad said I should move up to 800. I said, no, because I was a sprinter. Then I got here, and I knew I needed to move up. I moved up to the 800, and my sophomore year when I ran my best 800 time, it was exciting to feel like I finally understood, and I got the race down.
“I knew my parents were proud. They weren’t at the meet, but they told me they popped a bottle of champagne. I had been really nervous about moving up to the race, and I think one of the reasons I avoided it was knowing I had a family history in that race. I didn’t want to let anyone down. Feeling like I had figured it out, and I was a part of the club was really great.”
The moments of clarity were refreshing for Dorie. While there are peaks and high points in an athlete’s career, one can also assure challenges will come. For Dorie, an injury her sophomore year was another moment for her father to pave the way to grow from a weakness.
“Last year, I got injured and I had to use a medical redshirt for outdoors, and that was really hard,” Dorie said. “Sophomore year, I ran the 800 and I had finally figured it out. I got into really good shape that fall, and I was so excited for track season, and then to get hurt, it felt like a slap in the face. I knew that was my race, and I had done all the work to run well, I was excited to show off how hard I had worked, and then to not get the opportunity to do that was just really hard. If I didn’t have the support system I had within my family and at KU, I probably would have ended up quitting because I was so heartbroken. This past indoor season, I got mono. I tried to race through it and I just couldn’t for a while. I ended up losing my indoor season basically, and without my family I don’t think I would’ve been able to still compete. I was thinking it just wasn’t meant to be. But remembering I had my outdoor this season, I couldn’t just not do it.”
Her father never failed to remind her of the important things, as he had walked through every day with Dorie, guiding her with wisdom from the lessons he had learned himself through being a collegiate athlete.
“She has struggled with injuries recently,” Greg said. “I did as well when I was running. I’m really proud of the perseverance that she has. The lessons that you learn from sports in college, primarily the perseverance, are something that you take with you later in life. I’ve found that the struggles I had competing, and believing in the process, believing in myself, it really helped me when I was going through the tough times, career wise. I think she’ll be able to fall back on those experiences at KU and have support from what she’s experienced.”
Through the love and motivation of family, to the companionship of her teammates, and the joy of making her grandfather proud, each challenge revealed Dorie’s strength as a leader more and more along the way.
“I know how proud my grandpa would be,” Dorie smiled. “I know how proud my mom and dad are, so no matter what, (I) just keep pushing through and keep trying, even when I have setbacks.”
Thriving out of setbacks are not the only characteristic that makes Dorie a strong leader and captain. For her father, a lot of the attributes that makes her a great leader for the Jayhawks are the same virtues that he saw in his father.
“I think her grandpa would be very proud of how hard she works and how she works hard to make her teammates better,” Greg said. “My dad was well known as a rabbit for Wes Santee. A rabbit is the guy who goes out and sacrifices his own best race to set a quick time for a teammate. Dorie has those same natural attributes where she works to make everyone around her better. That makes me very proud. Another thing I saw in my dad was how he was a caregiver to everyone who he had a relationship with, and Dorie also exhibits that, as she tends to put other people’s needs in front of her own. I think that is probably the best attribute I see in both of them.”
Dorie sees similar attributes in herself that are common among her family. The passion and drive for running. The hunger to work harder in the times when it is the hardest. The characteristics that are essential for a captain.
“I can only speak to what I’ve heard about my grandpa, but we all love it,” Dorie said. “We all love track, and the sport, we love talking about it, we’re all very passionate about the sport, and we love to work hard. We’re all very driven people. We’re all very outgoing and social. Even when we have a hard practice, it’s still fun and I still enjoy it. It’s not something I ever dread, it’s always something I look forward to. I think that enthusiasm is a part of what made me a captain. We have practice in the fall at 5:45 a.m., so it can be hard to get excited about that, but having the right mindset helps and it influences the people around you.”
Through every workout and every race, making her grandfather proud and remembering his time at KU is something that Dorie spends time thinking about often. While things evolve greatly over time, memories remain in the form of keepsakes for her. Visual reminders that her family, too, has been in the same races, at some of the same places, with the same goal.
“Back when my grandpa was running, when you won a big race, they’d give you a gold shoe pendant with the name of the race engraved and the year,” Dorie said. “He had a bracelet full of them that he gave my grandma and she gave it to my mom. When I decided to come here they took one of the shoes off from the Big 12 Indoor Championships and put it on a necklace for me. They don’t do that anymore, so it’s cool to have that and be reminded of it.”
Ironically enough, one of Dorie’s father’s favorite moments takes place at the exact competition that is engraved on the shoe that is on the necklace that Dorie wears around her neck every day.
“While Dorie has always run her best, most competitive races at the conference meet, I think my proudest moment was watching Dorie was at the Big 12 Indoor Championships in 2016,” Greg said. “She was a sophomore and ran a great race to earn All-Big 12 honors. I knew at that moment that she belonged at KU competing for the Jayhawks.”
When looking back on his own days competing as a Jayhawk, the Kansas Relays are a vivid memory for Greg, which included teammates who are now lifelong friends, who are reunited at the Relays almost every year.
“I think my favorite moment was the Kansas Relays my final year at KU,” Greg said. “I was running on a 4×4 with three other really good guys. We were trying really hard to win this 4×4, they wanted to win it for me basically, because I had never won an individual relay race. The problem was that Iowa State had two Olympians on its 4×4 team, so they had different thoughts about it. It was a great race, really high-quality competition, and it was one of the last times I was going to run a 4×4 with these guys. I ran a good race, my teammates ran a good race, and it was a great experience. (It) Wasn’t the biggest win of my career or anything like that, but it was certainly the best experience in the single moments.”
The journey for Dorie and her father’s bond at Kansas does not end after she steps off of the track for the last time in May. Due to scheduling of the Big 12 Outdoor Championship, Dorie will miss her graduation ceremony, as did her father, which leads to another moment they are able to share together.
“Because of Big 12’s I can’t walk at graduation this year,” Dorie said. “My dad couldn’t walk, so we’re both going to come back and walk together next year at that ceremony. It will be cool that we can share that and go back and do it together.”
The Jayhawks will be wearing pink and powder blue uniforms at the 91st Kansas Relays Presented by RCB Bank, April 18-21, at Rock Chalk Park. A uniform that both Dorie’s father and grandfather wore at Kansas. It’s another time that Dorie can step on the track, look down at her grandfather’s engraved shoe on her necklace, smile at her father in the crowd, and know she is at the right place.