Longtime Runner and Detroit Running Community Contributor, Ralph Judd, Passes Away at the Age of 72

Longtime Runner and Detroit Running Community Contributor, Ralph Judd, Passes Away at the Age of 72

Note: Merlin Elsner, a contributing photographer to RunMichigan.com, also serves as the Finish Line Director for the Detroit Free Press Marathon. As a result of both being a photographer and his work with the marathon, Merlin came to meet and know Ralph Judd of Southfield, Michigan. Judd, who was the President of the Downtown Runners and Walkers Club in Detroit, passed away recently at the age of 72.

Note: Merlin Elsner, a contributing photographer to RunMichigan.com, also serves as the Finish Line Director for the Detroit Free Press Marathon. As a result of both being a photographer and his work with the marathon, Merlin came to meet and know Ralph Judd of Southfield, Michigan. Judd, who was the President of the Downtown Runners and Walkers Club in Detroit, passed away recently at the age of 72.

By Merlin Elsner

Ralph Judd, while I had seen him many times over the past few years, I had never met him face to face. I've seen him every year for the last four years at the exact same time -- he's the LAST PERSON across the finish line for the Detroit Free Press Marathon. He crosses that finish line hours after all the crowds have gone home, after all the support is gone. He knows he's out there on his own, racing down the streets of Detroit, and he still doesn't quit.

The least I can do is have some food/water ready for him every year.

Someone a few years back told me that there was a guy out on the course with MS that refused to get off the course. They claimed that the guy refused to get on the weary wagon, that he was determined to finish the marathon without any help or support. I stayed to see if it was true. I didn't know if it was true that he had MS, or some other physical ailment, but I was determined to stay and see who this person was that had such a strong determination.

I stood at the finish line with a medal in hand for a few hours waiting to see if this guy would make it. He made it. He made it the next year, and the next. He made it every year. I waited each year with his medal in hand, never knowing who he was, other than "the guy who comes in last every year."

He made it through in 2010 as well. The finish line was already long removed, as was most of the evidence of the day's event. Ralph came through this year, and I was determined to get his picture this year for my "100 Strangers" project. The challenge to the photographer is to get 100 portraits of strangers, developing intangible skills along the way, while receiving the benefit of getting to know a little bit about people we'd never know otherwise.

As it turns out, Ralph and I have interconnecting circles yet only crossed paths a few times. We met again a few weeks after taking this photo and exchanged e-mail addresses so we could talk more about running, about next year's marathon, and whatever else may come to mind. I saw him after that at our local Turkey Trot (1 mile, 5K, 10K) and he was looking like the Ralph that I knew -- a strong look of determination long after the crowds had gone.

I have a marathon coming up in less than two weeks, and if there's a moment where my mind tells me to stop, I'm going to think of Ralph, and his determination. It might sound silly, but I'll probably still take in a moment at the finish line next year to pay my respects to you Ralph. I'll have your medal ready.

Sincerely,

Your "friend at the finish line"

rjudd_merlin2.jpg
A fellow race participant and Ralph after
the 2010 Detroit Free Press Marathon

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