A Runner’s Recollections

Former San Marcos High Record-Setting Distance Runner Reminisces

Bill Schabram (right) hits the track again with former SMHS teammate Dennis Savage at Westmont College on March 27, 2010.
Paul Wellman

Life is beautiful to Bill Schabram these days, every bit as idyllic as when he was an exuberant teenager, running barefoot on the wet sand at low tide with his friend Dennis Savage, both of them sprinting to an imaginary finish line at Hendry’s Beach after they had put in 10 or 12 vigorous miles.

Schabram, 63, visited Santa Barbara recently and soaked up the pleasures of his youth. He walked five miles a day on the beach, sometimes breaking into a tentative run of five or 10 yards. He hung out with Savage at a track meet, recalling the days when they made history as a dynamic distance duo at San Marcos High.

Schabram had not felt this good in years, since before he had the two strokes that impaired his hearing and speech, forced him out of his job, and weakened him to the point that “he couldn’t walk down the driveway without needing oxygen,” according to his wife. “It got so that I didn’t know when I came home from work if he would still be alive,” Karen Schabram said.

Now Bill is looking forward to his 65th birthday. “When most people retire, I want to get started again,” he said.

A new heart will do that for you.

The call came the night of December 17 from the UC San Francisco Medical Center. They had found a replacement for Schabram’s diseased heart. The transplant procedure would have to commence in three hours.

Karen drove them from their home in the Butte County town of Paradise. She did not like to drive fast. That had been Bill’s penchant. “He always wanted to be out in front, like when he was running,” she said. But now it was far more urgent than any race on a track. Edging over the speed limit, she got them to UCSF in exactly three hours. Early the next day, Bill had a new heart.

“I don’t think I would have lived another three months,” Schabram said last week, which was just past his expiration date. His health is still somewhat fragile. “My new heart doesn’t like me,” he said, explaining that his immune system has to be depressed so it doesn’t reject the transplant. It came from a 36-year-old male who is otherwise anonymous. So far, all the signs are positive, and Schabram was able to drive himself to Santa Barbara for his visit with family and friends.

Savage, a retired local teacher, was overjoyed to see his old schoolmate. It was 45 years ago that they had put San Marcos on the map, helping the Royals’ distance medley team run the nation’s fastest time at the Easter Relays. “They were super kids,” said John Stoney, who coached the track team. “Not just as runners, but as people.”

Schabram and Savage saved their best for their last prep race together, both running the mile in 4:11.9 at the 1965 CIF Southern Section Championships. Schabram was given second place and Savage third behind winner Carl Trentadue of Westminster, but as far as Schabram was concerned, it was a tie. “My nose was longer, but we were even,” he said. “It was perfect for us to tie after being such good friends.” Their names are together in the San Marcos record book, and in the years since then, the school has had only one boy better their record—Todd Tressler, faster by three-10ths of a second, in 1991.

Schabram, who also won two CIF cross country titles, went on to run for Occidental College. He set a school record in the mile (4:03.0) and collected a silver medal in the NCAA College Division Championships. Savage competed for Westmont College. He got his mile time down to 4:00.7 and was a two-time NAIA champion. Both former teammates have been inducted into the Halls of Fame at their respective colleges.

They competed against each other on a couple of occasions. There is a photo of them running in a relay race at the Sunkist Indoor meet in Los Angeles. They are dead even with a lap to go. “Dennis took off and blew me away,” Schabram said. “He had much more success in college. He worked harder than I did. I was in better shape in high school because Dennis was there.”

They were both invited to a USA training camp in Eugene, Oregon. “We got to run with Pre [Steve Prefontaine],” Schabram said. “He took us up a big hill and then ran out of sight. We got lost.”

Schabram enjoyed running for fitness during his years of employment at the Bell Carter Olive Company. It came as a shock when his heart ailment—an infiltration of fat into the right ventricle—was revealed. “Stuff happens,” he said. “You’ve got to roll with it.” With his new pump, he’s got the wheels rolling again.

4•1•1

Tax-deductible donations to help defray the Schabrams’ uninsured medical costs can be made through the National Transplant Assistance Fund.

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