Utah wheelchair athlete and motivational speaker Curt Brinkman is being remembered for living a life exemplified by the title of his book, "The Will to Win."
"Just that phrase, 'The will to win,' embodies his whole attitude about everything," said his son Greg Brinkman.
Curt won the Boston Marathon in 1980, setting a world and course record of 1:55:00. He was also a five-time Paralympic gold medalist who had 20 first-place marathon finishes, according to his website.
Curt died at age 56 at his home in Pleasant Grove Sept. 7 following challenges brought on by a number of health complications, including diabetes and heart problems, Greg said. "We all kind of expected it, but just not so soon," he said. "We figured we would get another 10 years out of him, at least. But it's a shock, a surprise, but at the same time I guess it's a little bit of a relief because he's not dealing with that pain any more."
Curt, a Shelley, Idaho, native, stood 6-foot-7 at age 16 and had aspirations of playing professional basketball. He was working on his father's potato farm and climbed a power pole to see where other workers were when a high-voltage arc knocked him to the ground. Doctors had to amputate both of his legs. It was enough for anyone to use as an excuse, but Curt used it as motivation.
"He took it as a challenge, but he overcame that and he created his own life," Greg said. "A lot of times he said he wouldn't know what to do with his legs if he had them. They would just get in the way."
Some of the athlete's health problems date back to the accident where he lost his legs. Others came from the wear-and-tear of racing. "He had several surgeries on his shoulders and everything. His hands were giving out. His shoulders were giving out. He's been in the hospital a lot because of that," Greg said. "It just seems in the last couple of years he's been a little bit more frail than we're used to."
He won his last race, the St. George Marathon, in 2007 at age 54. Greg said the family thinks of their dad foremost as a motivational speaker. "We've heard from people who he maybe only met once or who saw him speak once but said that Curt changed their life forever." His children and grandchildren meant most to him, Greg said. "Obviously he's done great things in his life, but the most important thing he did for us was to be Dad."
Greg plans to run the St. George Marathon this year in honor of his dad, trying to get special permission to race in Curt's wheelchair.
A Wednesday viewing and funeral in Pleasant Grove will be followed by burial in Shelley, Idaho, on Saturday.