This month’s athlete is Paul Cummings. Paul was born on September 5, 1953 in Tempe, Arizona. His family moved to Santa Maria, California when he was 11 years old and he attended Ernest Righetti High School in the early 70’s. Cummings was the third of 13 children and had 10 sisters.
Paul was a world-class middle and long distance runner who ran competitively from the 1,500 meters to the marathon, breaking several American records and one world record. His ability to have a middle distance runner’s kick and also have the stamina to compete in distances up to the marathon placed him as one of the most versatile American track and road racers of his era.
Cummings did not always see running as his strength. He played basketball in junior high, and wanted to continue in high school, but failed to make the team. However, when he came in first in his Physical Education class in the mile run, a new opportunity opened up for him; he was asked to join the track team at Righetti High School. By his senior year Paul was running the mile in 4:10, the second best time in California and 7th best in the country. Cummings was recruited by several top universities and chose to attend Brigham Young University.
Cummings was named All-American five years in a row while running on the Brigham Young University Track and Cross Country teams. However, after his Freshman year, he was diagnosed with an extra bone in his foot and in order to run again, would have to undergo surgery to remove the bone. Cummings recovered, and by his junior year became the NCAA champion in the mile run. His personal best for the mile, 3:56.4, was run at his birthplace, Tempe, Arizona on March 16, 1974.
Cummings went on to earn his degree, and continued to run and compete.
BYU Track Coach, Clarence Robison, said Cummings was “a great performer and has great courage. He’s a tenacious, fierce competitor.”
Cummings was invited to several of the most prestigious track and field meets during the 1970s. He competed against the greatest runners of his day.
In 1981, Cummings shifted his focus from track to road racing. Taking advantage of new rules that enabled runners to compete professionally, Cummings represented New Balance shoes beginning in 1982.
On June 5, 1982, Cummings ran his personal best in the 5,000 meters at the Prefontaine Classic track meet in Eugene, Oregon.
Cummings was very busy, and successful, running road races in 1983. He set an American Record in the 15K by almost 28 seconds at the Cascade Run Off in Portland, Oregon on June 26, 1983. On September 25, 1983, Cummings set the World Record in the half marathon at the Dayton River Corridor Classic in with a time of 1:01:32.
Cummings represented Converse shoes beginning in 1984 and was included in Runner’s World Magazine’s list of the top 20 highest paid runners, ranked 15th worldwide, in 1984.
In 1984, Cummings won the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 10,000 Meter run in Los Angeles, California and finally became a member of the US Olympic Team. He was able to compete in the 10,000 meter run at the Olympics held in Los Angeles. Cummings suffered from allergies and that hindered his performance at the games.
Cummings is the only runner to finish second in San Francisco’s Bay to Breakers 12K road race (Guinness World Record largest road race) three years in a row (1984, 1985, and 1986). On March 15, 1987, Cummings broke the American Record in the 20K, at New Bedford, Massachusetts, in a time of 59.13.
In the late 1980s, Cummings, along with fellow Utah world class runners started a summer high school high altitude running camp, which ran for 15 years and helped hundreds of high school runners from across the country reach their potential.
Another pursuit Cummings enjoyed was fishing, especially with his best friend Jay Woods. Sadly while fishing together on September 17, 2001, their canoe capsized under high winds at Strawberry Reservoir, Utah. He drowned in the accident. Paul left behind a wife of 27 years and four children. Cummings was inducted into the Brigham Young University Athletics Hall of Fame in 1986. He was posthumously inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.