Don Heinicke was both a founder of the Howard County Striders and one of the best distance runners in the United States in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Don started running in 1932 after an industrial accident severed the tips of the fingers on his right hand, thereby shortening his baseball career. He “got the bug” and gradually worked himself into the ranks of Baltimore’s better runners, joining the prestigious Stonewall Democratic Running Club. There he met Pat Denges, who would become his coach. Pat was an early advocate of “LSD” — long slow distance training. Don ran his first marathon in 1937 — Mt. Vernon to Washington. In 1939, the Boston Marathon was the first of three qualifiers for the United States 1940 Olympic Team.
At that time, the would-be Olympic qualifiers had to run all three marathons, and the “winners” were the three men who had the lowest totals of their places in the three events. Don was second in the 1939 Boston race, in 2:38, within one minute of the then world record for the marathon. He went on to finish second (American) in Yonkers and then was the third American in the 1940 Boston Marathon. Don had made the Olympic team along with legends Leslie Pawson and John Kelly. The Olympics were scheduled for Japan, but war broke between China and Japan, and the venue was hastily changed to Finland. Don had his team uniform and a course map when Russia bombed Finland. World War II had dashed Don’s Olympic dreams. The 1944 Olympics were also cancelled, and although Don tried to qualify for the U.S. Team in 1948, he fell victim to an accidental exposure to mustard gas at Edgewood Arsenal. Nonetheless, Don kept running for most of the rest of the 20th century. He completed 30 Boston Marathons, finishing third three times, in addition to fourth and sixth place finishes. Don was one of the small group of Howard Countians who decided to form a running club in 1977. The fledgling Howard County Striders put on three races to celebrate Columbia’s 10th Birthday in June of 1977. Three and seven mile races were held on a Saturday, followed by the first Metric Marathon on Sunday. The following year, Don was Race Director for the first Clyde’s 10K, which put the Striders on the map. Don completed his first triathlon in 1984 at the age of 69, and continued running until six years later when a bicycle accident resulted in a plate in his hip socket and a metal rod d