Late Falconer Native Remembered By Former Athlete
Ten years ago, friends of the College of William & Mary track and field program named the Tribe’s newly constructed throwing facility in honor of Dan Stimson. Officially, it’s known as the Dan Stimson Throwing Events Area.
It’s clear that the folks connected to the college in Williamsburg, Virginia knew what they were doing, because Stimson’s 25-year tenure as director of track and field was something extraordinarily special.
Need some numbers?
Along the way, the Falconer native’s teams combined for 49 Colonial Athletic Association titles, and his athletes earned All-American honors 64 times and claimed 90 CAA athlete awards, which encompasses most valuable players, and athletes and rookies of the year. One even landed a berth on the U.S. Olympic team.
That’s a lot of hardware.
Fittingly, the plaque that greets athletes to the Stimson Throwing Events Area includes a quote, which reads as follows: “The quality of the coaching staff is as important as the quality of the faculty when it comes to preparing for life after college.”
Alex Heacock would agree.
Heacock, a 2009 graduate of William & Mary, was a former student-athlete under Stimson and now serves as W&M’s director of track & field and cross country.
To say the two men were close would be an understatement.
“Everybody will say the same thing,” Heacock said in a cellphone interview Thursday afternoon from the W&M campus, two days after Stimson passed away after a lengthy illness. “You were a better person for having known him.”
Heacock was a rising senior recruit when Stimson called his house more than a dozen years ago to give the student-athlete his recruiting pitch. Although Heacock wasn’t home, Stimson didn’t care. He talked to Heacock’s mother for 45 minutes.
“My mom said that she would feel 100 percent comfortable if I went to William & Mary and was coached by this man,” Heacock recalled. “He could hook you. It was heartfelt, warm, 100 percent genuine.”
Athletically, it’s pretty clear that Heacock made the right choice.
A member of the Tribe track and field teams from 2005-09, Heacock won the CAA javelin title in 2007. He was also the runner-up in 2008 and third as a freshman. He qualified for the IC4A Championships in both 2007 and 2008, and was an NCAA East Region qualifier in 2007. Heacock was the seventh-ranked javelin thrower in school history when he graduated in 2009 with a degree in kinesiology, and still ranks eighth all-time.
Personally, Heacock’s connection with Stimson was not only the right choice, but it was also life-changing, a relationship that he likened to that of a son to a father or a grandson to a grandfather.
“He was the same person from the first time I met him 14 years ago until his last days here,” Heacock said.
And despite, in Heacock’s words, being “handed some bad cards when it came to his health the past five to seven years,” Stimson never complained.
“He was supposed to come to my wedding,” Heacock remembered, “but the week of the wedding he called and said, ‘Alex, I’m sorry, but I can’t make it to your wedding. … I have to get my leg amputated.'”
Heacock said that Stimson quickly changed the subject, focusing instead on his former student-athlete’s upcoming nuptial.
“It was never about himself,” Heacock said. “It was always about other people. For him to keep that positive, light-hearted, gentle demeanor (despite) losing two legs and having many physical limitations and health struggles is just amazing to me.”
Wednesday night Heacock met with his student-athletes and told them one of the “biggest lessons” he learned from Stimson was this: “You don’t have to let your circumstances define you. It’s how you live your life and how you impact people that tells the story.”
Heacock had a couple of phone conversations with Stimson last week while the Tribe was at Penn State University for a cross country meet. On Sunday, Heacock visited his former coach at a Richmond hospital.
“It was good to be able to do that,” Heacock said. “Just to be able see him (for the last time).”
According to the W&M website, a memorial service for Stimson will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 5 at the Williamsburg United Methodist Church with a reception to follow at St. Stephen Lutheran Church. Stimson’s family will also be available at a visitation/reception from 4-6 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4 in the Fellowship Hall at the St. Stephen’s.
“His biggest legacy is just the impact he made on each of our lives,” Heacock said. “We’re all better for having known him. It was just his ability to make you feel special. It didn’t matter how far you threw, how high you jumped, you always knew he’d be there for you. It’s just hard to put into words how he was able to do that for decades.”
Stimson remained close to the W&M track and field program even after his retirement. In fact, he stayed on staff as a volunteer and came to practice most days with coffee in both hands — one for him and one for Heacock.
“I didn’t ask for it,” Heacock said. “I don’t know if I paid him.”
But now, Heacock can pay it forward, taking the lessons he learned from his former coach and passing them on to his family and his athletes.
“It was tough coming out here (earlier this week) and seeing the (Dan Stimson Throwing Events Area) sign,” Heacock said. “It will always be the Stimson Throwing Area, but I’m never going to see the big guy here again.”
Stimson’s legacy will endure, though.
“We were all family to him,” Heacock said. ” … I want to thank his family again for sharing him so willingly for many years.”