This article, written by Kristin Deffenbacher, was originally published in Pacific, November 2006.
Gregory goes the distance Honoree found himself through running
Dr. Donald Gregory (BA '75), recipient of Fresno Pacific University's 2006 Distinguished Alumni Award, is a modest man who loves to run.
Don and his wife Karen met in St. Louis when he was a third-year medical student at Washington University and she was a nurse. When Karen first met her husband she commented, "Oh, you jog." Gregory responded, "No. I run." Today he logs 10 miles a day. As Karen puts it, "Running is his life. He loves running. It is his God-given interest."
When Gregory came to FPU the school was Pacific College and the teams were the Vikings. Gregory wanted to continue to pursue his passion. "I wanted to belong to a team and be around people who liked to run," he says. "I didn't think that I would help them. I asked Bill Cockerham (then the track coach) if it would be alright if I tagged along."
Gregory's early estimate of his contributions in track and field and cross country demonstrates his humbleness. While at Pacific, he earned the titles of team captain, most valuable performer and Viking of the Year. He was also Pacific's first cross country athlete to letter all four years and still holds school records.
"Cross country people are highly motivated, and Don was like that, highly motivated as an athlete and a student. The staff at Pacific liked Don's character, which went beyond his athletic abilities," says Gary Nachtigall, retired coach, geography faculty and athletic director.
Gregory credits Pacific and the cross country team as places where he was molded into the person he is today. "Many of us came to Pacific without our identities or values set. On the track, values were made and molded. We had a coach who believed in hard work in the class and on the track, a coach who believed in Christ," he says.
Karen Gregory refers to her husband's time on the cross country team as a golden era of talented runners and great people. "It was a life changing team: prayer before team races, Bible studies at the coaches' houses. The coaches were godly men who loved these kids and cross country. They made Don forever passionate about the sport and doing what you're supposed to--doing what God wants you to do," she says.
Gergory was also part of a close-knit academic group. Dr. Dennis Falk (BA'75) got to know Gregory as a pre-med/pre-dental student. "I think struggling through physical chemistry and calculus together helped to cement the friendship," says Falk, now a dentist in Fresno. Their continued relationship is in part due to the belief and values fostered at Pacific. Additionally, they both enjoy endurance sports: marathons for Gregory and cycling centuries for Falk.
Since graduation, Gregory has run in many marathons, once placing third while pushing his daughter in a stroller. He is a member of a three-person team that broke a 24-hour relay world record, but no one would guess his achievements from his behavior. "He is always modest. If he wins a race and you congratulate him, he never takes the glory for himself," says Wayne Cook, a friend and professional peer.
Ken Isaak (BA '76) considers his friend and former cross country teammate to be loyal as well as unassuming. "Don makes friendships for life. He will be there for you and he is extremely generous with his time and his financial resources," Isaak says.
Falk remembers when he was a patient a few years ago. Although Falk's medical problem had nothing to do with Gregory's area, Gregory stopped by every day during rounds. "He went out of his way to follow up on my care and neither I nor my insurance was billed for this," Falk says.
A cardiovascular specialist with the Cardiovascular Consultants Heart Center, Gregory gives his time and talents to friends and FPU athletics. One of Gregory's many contributions is to provide pre-season physical examinations for cross country and track and field athletes. "You always know when Don does the physicals for Pacific because of all the young faces in the waiting room. You would think you walked into a pediatrician's office instead of a cardiologist," says Wayne Cook, a friend and professional peer. Gregory attends meets and knows the names and times of the Pacific runners. "Don is a very knowledgeable, interested and encouraging fan. When he does the Pacific physicals he loves talking to the kids about their times and injuries," Karen says.
Nachtigall and Isaak have also witnessed Gregory's giving nature. Isaak, FPU sports information director, recounts Gregory's expertise in action. "On a whim a student from Kenya, who had all the characteristics of a great runner, tried out for the Pacific cross country team. When doing the physical Don was shocked at what he heard when he listened to this guy's heart--he had a diseased heart and it could have been fatal. Don organized the entire surgery and got all his friends to donate anything insurance wouldn't cover. Don saved this kid's life," Isaak says.
Gregory downplays his medical contributions. "I interact with patients and their families throughout the day--evaluating a heart concern or treating a heart ailment," he says. Cook points out that Gregory nurtures not just his patients, but their families as well. As an employee of Biotronick, a company that makes pacemakers, Cook sees Gregory as often as three to four times a week. The two men and their spouses also participate in a mentoring class. "Don's demeanor is always very calm, always very joyful to his patients and his bedside manner is amazing. He is one of the only doctors I know who prays before he goes into a procedure. He acknowledges who gave him his skills," Cook says.
"He sees the big picture and how everything fits together in God's hands," says Nachtigall who, along with Isaak and Falk, credit Gregory for FPU's new track. "FPU probably would not have a track at this time if it were not for the efforts and generosity of Don Gregory," Falk says.
"Don is always there to give, with his time and talents. He is a giving guy: to his friends, his employees and his patients. Even if they just need to talk, he is there," Cook says.
As the recipient of Pacific's 2006 Distinguished Alumni Award Gregory humbly states: "Every single teammate has developed into someone who is a community leader. Anyone of my teammates would be worthy of the award given. Why me? What about all these others who are doing wonderful things in others' lives--teachers, pastors, missionaries, administrators. What I have done is nothing special."
Karen Gregory sees that FPU offered more than just a team to the kids involved. "It was a life-changing experience, the team experience building relationships and mentoring," she says. The Gregory's three children are also involved in cross country and track and field. Their eldest daughter, Leah, a junior at FPU, follows her father's footsteps as a member of the cross country team, and the Gregorys often open their home to the team.
Sports can lead to things beyond athletic performance, things not necessarily associated with athletics, according to Gregory: "I witnessed that--prayer groups, Bible studies. Guys got to know Christ because the coaches invited them into their homes." Above all, Gregory believes he is blessed. "I have a wonderful wife who keeps my eye on the goal--that is our Christian faith."