Eric Verstappen strolled through life and made everyone his friend

This is my tribute to Eric Verstappen, the longtime Athletics Nelson president and National Academy of Distance Running board member who died Feb. 8 from a heart attack after walking the St. James Walkway with his sister…

Eric Verstappen didn’t just run and walk on this Earth. He strolled.

He strolled his beloved Grampians. Dun Mountain. Maitai Walkway. Rabbit Island. Barnicoat. Mount Campbell. Takaka Hill.

He strolled tracks and roads all over New Zealand. He strolled around race courses with the world’s oldest measuring wheel, which he often borrowed from me.

And he always did it with a warm chuckle.

Eric would do anything for you, and when you didn’t do something he asked you to do, he didn’t make anything of it.

He served on heaps of committees, including our Athletics Nelson and the National Academy of Distance Running boards. (Heather must have gotten used to Eric saying, “Gotta run, off to a meeting.”)  He always had something eloquent to say, even though it took him a while to say it, and then relaxed with a glass of his favourite wine and pleasant conversation.

At the Nelson Half Marathon, Eric had me organise volunteers for the water stations. At this past Nelson Half, he called the day before the race and asked, “How many volunteers do you have?”

“Four.”

“We are gonna need 12.”

“And you are asking me this now.”

I found the lot in two hours. Eric made sure every one of those volunteers left with a bottle of wine.

At the New Zealand Road Relay in Nelson about 12 years ago, Eric was setting out cones. He set one down atop Dovedale Hill and didn’t realise there was an arrow on the cone. So the leader from North Shore Bays went the wrong way.  It cost them the race. If I had done that, I would have left town for three weeks. Eric just sluffed it off and strolled onward – with a smile.

Eric is no longer putting cones down on Earth but in Heaven. He is looking down upon us walking and running as he strolls along the clouds.

And always with a warm chuckle.

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