They say you can tell a lot about a person by how they respond in times of adversity. Bill Finkbeiner, a 61-year-old running legend in Northern California, prone in a hospital recliner with skull fractures and numerous broken bones after an being hit by a bike while running, showed his character when he was visited by his friend and Way Too Cool 50K race director, Julie Fingar.
“Is there anything I can do for you?” he asked.
Even lying there in bed, says Fingar, Finkbeiner was showing the character that defines him.
“He is completely the most unselfish person in the world—giving, caring, and compassionate to everyone in the trail running community and beyond,” she adds. “Bill makes me want to be a better person.”
On June 13, Finkbeiner was running, like he always does. Every day since 1980 he had run at least one mile, and that Tuesday in June was no different. In fact, Finkbeiner and his friend Bill Hambrick have done the same run every Tuesday for 25 straight years. But this Tuesday would end in tragedy.
A fast-moving bike hit Finkbeiner from behind without warning. “Bill flew horizontally about two-and- a-half feet off the ground, hands behind him,” Hambrick recalls. “He hit the asphalt face-first and did not move, apparently knocked out. He started to immediately bleed profusely and did not realize how injured he was.”
The rider sped off as Finkbeiner was transported to the hospital. “Bill could have been killed,” Hambrick recalls. “He has a skull fracture, five other fractures in his face, two teeth knocked out, a broken hand and thumb that required surgery to repair, and a large amount of road rash and bruising.”
The rider escaped, though his cell phone was left at the scene. Police are tying to get a search warrant for the phone, but are caught up in legal squabbling over whether a bike hit-and-run is a felony that allows a warrant to be issued. Meanwhile, Finkbeiner is starting the long road to recovery in the hospital.
“Bill is a hero in the Northern California trail running community,” Fingar says. “The outpouring of support has been inspiring.”
A few days after the accident, Fingar and others set up donation pages for Finkbeiner, who will be out of work as a self-employed landscape contractor for the foreseeable future. Scores of people streamed into the hospital, regaling Finkbeiner with stories from the past.
And there are lots of stories. “He has completed the Leadville 100 30 times!” Fingar says. “He’s the only one. He’s also in the Hall of Frogger, having done every Way Too Cool 50K for 28 years.” Almost every trail runner in Northern California (and many beyond) seem to have a Bill Finkbeiner story. While many of those stories revolve around running, most of them have to do with his character.
“He’s a selfless human being and the kindest person I know,” Fingar says.
“He’s a guy that makes friends with everyone, will coach just by talking with people and giving tips, and will offer advice when asked,” says Hambrick.
Finkbeiner won’t be at Leadville this year (he cannot go to altitude with the skull fractures), and his next running streak might be delayed for an extended period of time. But hearing stories about Finkbeiner, it is clear that his kindness streak will continue forever.
Consider donating to the Bill Finkbeiner Recovery Fund here: