The legendary Dick Van Dyke has long been known for his one-of-a-kind comedy – primarily his spot-on ability to pull off some of the most iconic physical comedy in television history.
The actor’s name is synonymous with the goofy stylings audiences fell in love with during Dick Van Dyke’s three-time Emmy-winning portrayal of Robert Petrie on Van Dyke’s television name-sake: The Dick Van Dyke Show.
While this lovable and outgoing personality the actor/singer/comedian is so well known for is how audiences picture Dick Van Dyke, it wasn’t always a part of his life.
In fact, it wasn’t until high school that Dick Van Dyke really started looking into what inspires him.
Coming Into His Own
Now, the most obvious guess as to what activity it was that first inspired the iconic actor would be acting, right? Clearly performing is Dick Van Dyke’s passion.
I mean, with a decades-long career full of hit movies, television shows, Emmys, and even a couple of Grammys under his belt, there’s little doubt that Dick Van Dyke felt comfortable performing in his various roles throughout his incredibly successful career.
However, acting wasn’t the first activity in which Van Dyke found inspiration.
Instead, the young Dick Van Dyke found a passion on the track, dedicating much of his free time to running as soon as he entered high school in Indiana.
“I came into my own,” the star wrote in his memoir of how he changed after he developed the interest in running.
“It was not a personality change as much as it was the realization that I had a personality,” the actor continued in his 2011 book My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business.
“I also found out that I could run and jump pretty well,” he continued. “And I got on the freshman track team.”
Dick Van Dyke Finds Himself Running in the Big Leagues
In fact, Dick Van Dyke became so interested in the sport of track that he often spent his weekends at local college track meets; watching the older runners and imagining his future on the track.
Then, one day, the performer’s high school track coach who served as an official at many of these collegiate races, gave the actor an offer he just couldn’t refuse.
“Do you want to run?” Van Dyke said his coach asked him after one of the scheduled racers injured his ankle at the last minute.
“Are you kidding?” Van Dyke responds to the unexpected question.
“They need a man!” the actor remembers his coach telling him.
While the idea was a daunting one to the young high-schooler, it was one he just couldn’t pass up.
“Yes, I told my coach,” Van Dyke wrote in the 2011 memoir. However, his start in the race was a bit slow…but that, it seems, was part of the young runner’s strategy.
As the race began, Van Dyke was behind. Not because he was slow, though, but because he was using that time to size up his competition’s speed.
“I ran hard,” the actor remembered. Van Dyke remembers how he gained ground on his competitor, eventually passing him with about twenty yards left in the race.
“I won,” Van Dyke said of his debut on the college-level track. “A high-school freshman. Amazing.”