Chuck LeRose never seemed to get tired.
Take April 25, 1972, when he was a senior two-miler for the St. Catherine’s High School boys track ream. The Angels opened their season with a nonconference dual meet at Kenosha Tremper and LeRose scorched the track with a time of 9:13.0 — a school record that still stands.
“If you have a cardiovascular system that’s so good that you open up your season with a 9:13.0, which is our school record for two miles, you’ve got to be kidding me!,” said longtime St. Catherine’s coach Tom Scheller, who was serving as an assistant that season. “He would recover so quickly from a workout.
“He literally should have been running workouts by himself because he recovered faster than his teammates.”
LeRose was clearly a natural. As a ninth grader at what was then McKinley Junior High School, LeRose started hanging out in his neighborhood with runners of the St. Catherine’s cross country team, which was in the midst of a state dynasty at the time.
Hooked by the competition, he rapidly reduced his weight from 180 pounds to 138. After winning the only two junior varsity cross country races he ever ran to start his career at St. Catherine’s as a sophomore in 1969, he was promoted to the varsity and became a school legend.
“He was one of those guys where everything seemed to come easy for him,” said Tim McGilsky, a 1970 St. Catherine’s graduate who won the private schools state cross country championship as a senior.
Was LeRose dominant enough to earn a place on the Mount Rushmore of Racine County distance runners? That’s a difficult question for Scheller, a local running historian, given the changes in competitive running during the last 50 years.
But Scheller will say this much: “If I had to pick a top-seven team of all-time in Racine County, Chuck LeRose, for sure, is on it. He was tougher than nails. We invented a workout for him. It was like, ‘What are we going to do to get Chuck in oxygen debt?’”
Nearly a half century has passed since LeRose’s glory days and he’s still tough as nails. But he has no choice these days. After being diagnosed with cancer in his gallbladder and liver in early April, LeRose has been undergoing regular chemotherapy treatments at Froedtert Drexel Town Square Health Center in Oak Creek.
Those treatments have beaten up LeRose far more than any cross country race ever could. But just as he consistently did as an elite distance runner at St. Catherine’s, the 66-year-old LeRose is fighting. And he’s fighting to win.
“I’ve got a lot of support and I’m trying to stay positive,” he said. “I’m doing pretty good. It’s spread to the lymph nodes, so that’s not good. Hopefully, they’re going to shrink it (the cancer) and get it under control.”
During his days as an athlete, LeRose could single-handedly put matters into his own hands and settle the issue. Maybe he didn’t have outstanding speed to fall back on, but LeRose’s lung capacity seemed to be second to none. He always had so much gas left in his tank during crunch time.
As a sophomore in 1969, he was a consistent top-10 finisher on a dominant, experienced team that won the second of four straight state cross country championships. LeRose quickly earned his place among a group that featured such established runners as McGilsky and Dick Sawasky and he placed 10th in his first state meet.
Almost from the minute he joined the no-nonsense Angels, LeRose fit in as a humorous free spirit who endeared himself to his teammates. How much of a free spirit was LeRose? It was in 1974 when he and McGilsky went on a hitchhiking trip together — to Ketchikan, Alaska.
It was a trip that covered more than 2,600 miles over several weeks. Why did they do it? Well, why not?
“He made it a lot of fun,” McGilsky said of running with LeRose. “There was such good chemistry on that team and he just made everything kind of cohesive.”
LeRose won the state two-mile championship in track as a sophomore in 1970, but suffered an injury when he stepped into a hole as Pershing Park while training for track the following season.
“I felt a twinge and was scheduled to run an 880 (yard) tuneup at Bradford on the cinders and then I really felt it,” LeRose said. “It was a really bad gluteus maximus pull, so I had to ice it and sit in a hot tub. I couldn’t work out for like a month.”
But, remember, there was no holding back LeRose in those days. And he recovered so well that he went on to finish fourth at the conference meet and third in the state meet despite that setback.
LeRose’s crowning glory came as a senior during the 1971-72 school year, when he swept state championships in cross country and in the two-mile event in track.
“My senior year of cross country, I was undefeated, man!” LeRose proudly proclaims nearly 48 years later. “Those were great teams. Every year, we were expected to win and that’s what we went for. When you’re working that hard, it’s a lot more fun winning than when you ain’t!”
And then it was off to Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where he finished ninth in the Missouri Valley Conference Cross Country Championships in the fall of 1972 — the best finish on his team.
Finally, though, something got the best of LeRose. A severe pulled hamstring in early 1973 ended his competitive running career and LeRose moved into the next phase of his life.
He has spent most of his professional career as a mental health counselor, most recently for the Kenosha Human Development Services. He was working at this position when he started suffering pain his his lower back in April.
The prognosis was sobering.
“It wasn’t going away,” he said. “They gave me a CAT scan and that’s when they found it. And it was right during COVID, like April 10. It couldn’t have been worse timing. They had to tell me over the phone because of this COVID crap. It was rough. They told me I had cancer. It wasn’t good, I’ll tell you that.”
During the last three-plus months, LeRose has received strong support from his wife of more than 30 years, Chris, and sons Stephan, Aaron and Tony. Also reaching out has been his old hitchhiking buddy, McGilsky, who met his wife of 44 years, Debra, through LeRose.
McGilsky, who lives in Mount Pleasant, Mich., is particularly qualified to comfort his old buddy. He was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2016 and has recovered after undergoing chemotherapy and surgery.
“I text him a couple times a week and sometimes the texts go on and on and on,” McGilsky said. “You need a real good attitude to get through chemo sometimes and the chemo he’s getting is pretty darn hard. It’s basically the same one I got.
“It’ll wipe you out. And if you ever talked to anyone who had chemo, you get this chemo fog where you forget stuff — there’s all kinds of different things that chemo does to your body. You need a real good attitude. And I lucked out. I have a great wife and a great daughter (Katharine).
“They were on top of everything and Chuck has the same type of family infrastructure.”
But it’s still going to be the toughest race LeRose ever took on. He knows it. And he sure isn’t going to back down.
“I take every day as it comes,” LeRose said. “I’ve got four grandkids now, so I’ve got a lot to live for. I’m just trying to keep myself positive.”
Peter Jackel is a reporter for The Journal Times. You can reach Peter by calling 262-631-1703 or by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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