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PROCTOR MAKES STRIDES TOWARD GREATEST VICTORY: BEATING THE BOTTLE

Thomas Proctor IV has won 42 races in his five years of running. This year he was No. 4 overall in the open division of the Buffalo News Runner of the Year series.

Imagine how he'd do when not hung over.

Proctor, 24, finally dried out two months ago after a cross country run with some of the state's top runners near Rochester. He vomited so much he thought he would die. He finally said enough was enough.

It was the end of a five-year binge that had grown to where Proctor was drinking a quart of hard liquor a day. He never ran drunk, but was so hung over in races it's a wonder he finished, let alone won so many.

"Last year, during the holidays, I remember what I did Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Eve," Proctor said last week. "That's all I remember, I don't remember the rest. When I think about it, it makes me shake. It's very scary."

Proctor is confessing his past because he wants the high school runners who come up to him after races to know this could happen to them, too. How for some people, having a few drinks leads to more and more drinks. How elite runners, especially, think they're invulnerable because they're in such great condition.

Like any recovering alcoholic, Proctor is ashamed of his past binges, embarrassed by those he deceived and let down, including training partners like Jim and Joe Dunlop, Joe Biasillo, and his coach and mentor Bob Carroll.

They may not have known the extent of Proctor's drinking, but they knew something was wrong. He would often outrun them during the hardest workouts, but never run the races they knew he was capable of running.

No wonder. When Proctor would finish his workouts, he'd head home to Niagara Falls, start drinking cocktails that eventually became full glasses of liquor, and then head out on the town to finish the night off.

His brother Patrick, who knew how hard his brother was drinking and did all he could to encourage him to stop, is still amazed at the way he could pick himself up after a night of heavy boozing.

"I can go back to last November (1998), at the Bob Ivory Run, a 5K, when the race started at 9 a.m. and Tom had been out the night before," Patrick Proctor said. "It was a friend's house party and he was labeled, I mean drunk. He was home by 4 that morning, woke up at 7 and headed to the race. He ended up running a 15:35, winning the race, and would have run faster if he was not dry-heaving towards the finish."

Proctor had the hardest time making a full confession to his coach, after Carroll had continually gone out of his way to help him out.

"He kept telling me he had something important to say," Carroll said. "Finally, he told me in an e-mail. He just couldn't do it face to face."

Carroll is the first real coach Proctor has ever had. He never ran in high school at Niagara-Wheatfield, or in college, where he has been taking courses at Niagara County Community College.

He got into running after a friend who ran cross country in high school talked him into running the Canal Fest 4 Miler in the Tonawandas. Proctor finished sixth overall in his first road race and realized he had some talent for the sport.

As he continued improving as a runner, he kept partying at night, requiring more and more drinks to get high. He would never drink during the day, made sure he got to work or school, and did all his workouts before he would start drinking. He continued fooling himself.

After getting so sick during the October cross country race, he finally realized what he was doing, that he could no longer claim it was a flu, or stomach upset. He was a drunk.

He quit cold turkey, with no counseling, no 12-step program.

"During the day, I'd shake, then I'd get through it. I figured it couldn't be any worse. I'd get through it."

In his two sober months, Proctor has had some of the best runs in his life and has never felt better. At the Delaware YMCA Turkey Trot, where he ran his best time by nearly a minute and took fifth place in a quick field, Proctor found himself passing people who had beaten him before.

Life suddenly looks a lot brighter than it did from the bottom of a bottle.

Running shorts

Bob Carroll, Proctor's coach, won the Golden Shoe Award from Runner's World for the time he's spent coaching the hundreds of runners who come out to the Checker's A.C. weekly track practices at Parker Field. The current issue has a nice piece and picture.

Ray Appenheimer, the former St. Joe's and Colgate runner, helped lead his Nike team to a first-place finish at the USA Track & Field Cross Country Championships in Long Beach, Calif., on Dec. 5. Appenheimer, a member of the U.S. Cross Country team that went to Ireland last year, was first among 157 elite runners with a 29:22.7 for the 10K course. His father Tom, a competitive masters runner in Buffalo, couldn't be more proud.

Upcoming races

Last Race of the Year, 2 laps of Delaware Park, 3.6 miles, 11 a.m., Sat., 636-4238; Gordon's Gallop, one lap around the Delaware Park Meadow, free, 11:45 p.m., Dec. 31, 837-3031; Resolution 5K, noon, New Year's Day, Williamsville, 633-1635.

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