Former CEO turns globetrotting philanthropist

November 6, 2012

By John Leggett

Charles Herrick shows his silver medal Aug. 3 after winning the 400-meter run in the masters division of the 2012 USA Track and Field National Championships in Chicago. Contributed

Issaquah resident Charles Herrick would be a shoo-in to claim the cool million awarded to the annual winner in the popular reality TV show “Survivor” that has been airing for 12 years.

This saintly globetrotter has helped and lived among the desperate and starving of a Bombay ghetto among pestilence and vermin, and lived to tell about it.

“The rats in the slum were not so bad,” Herrick recalled. “All they did was stop beside you while you slept and lick the sweat off of you for its salt content.

“Even the 100-degree evening heat wasn’t so bothersome, but when I would cross the bridge that spanned the toxic Ulhasnager River on my way to check up on the unclean, untouchable and hopelessly ill, my eyes would burn profusely from the fumes wafting up from the heavily polluted water,” he added. “The river’s water was teaming with chemicals and it actually caught on fire twice in the few months I was there.”

Finding a cure

Before that, Herrick was the only white man living side-by-side in a completely primitive African village. No running water, no electricity, but plenty of mysterious and fatal diseases to go around.

What was in it for him? Nothing, although he did manage to parlay the experience into a book, “Breath of Kenya.” He had no financial backing and was armed only with the limited medical knowledge he had gleaned from his days as a pre-med student at the University of Washington; he opted for a law degree instead.

Even with his minimal resources, he was able to diagnose the source of continuous, demoralizing deaths of members of this Kenyan tribe.

“Personal hygiene was very nearly nonexistent and the customary greeting among these folks was shaking hands … repeatedly shaking hands with everyone constantly,” said Herrick, who took his theory to the Kenyan Ministry of Health and convinced its medical personnel to visit the tribe.

The Kenyan Ministry of Health doctors were able to confirm Herrick’s findings, determining the epidemic was caused by worms, often causing extreme and agonizing discomfort or more likely death.

Once a cure was implemented and people stopped dying, Herrick said his reward was the beautiful smiles and gratitude displayed on their faces.

“Americans have to stop trying to be normal and just getting by and instead achieve amazing things in their lives … You know, get outside of their comfort zone a bit,” said the optimistic Herrick, a 1970 graduate of Roosevelt High School.

A meager existence

If you think this former Roughrider is an eccentric who was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, you would be wrong. He grew up with three siblings in a miniscule 500-square-foot home in Seattle and did not have an easy childhood.

After eeking out a meager existence by working at a U-District gas station as a mechanic and pump jockey, he finally caught a break.

IBM hired him before he took the bar exam, and before he knew it, he was preparing presentations for top-level executives and making a name for himself by deftly completing special projects.

“I guess they liked my spunk,” Herrick said with a modest smile.

A charmed life

You could almost say Herrick has had a charmed life.

By the late ‘90s, Herrick reached the pinnacle of his career, pulling in six figures as CEO of a systems integration firm called Best Consulting, with 2,000 employees under his watchful eye.

As a reward for his myriad good deeds and diligent toil, Herrick has been blessed by being able to accomplish something that brings him a great deal of joy and that most people his age couldn’t imagine attempting.

This mercurial senior citizen ran a 59.19-second 400-meter sprint, winning the silver medal a month ago in the Masters Division (ages 60-65) of the USA Track and Field national championships in Chicago, on a very hot and humid August afternoon.

This flyboy smiles ear-to-ear upon explaining he is a member of an elite, exclusive 400-meter fraternity known as the running-below-your-age club.

“Running brings me a lot of joy, happiness and exhilaration,” he said. “I am 60 years old, running what most see as being the most difficult event in track and field, but I can still run 20 mph.”

On the horizon

The 400-meter race puts an extraordinary amount of stress on your body, because the starting point is situated on the corner of the oval and the outside leg is running faster than the inside leg. Many runners in the event suffer from muscle pulls on their push-off leg.

Herrick said that by the time you have sprinted the first half of the required distance, your body has reached top speed, but if you want to win you must maintain that speed for the remaining 200 meters.

Despite being 6 feet and 150 pounds, Herrick said he consumes 4,500 calories a day, or nearly twice the recommended caloric intake of the average male, and as a vital part of this regimen must eat 1,800 calories of fatty foods.

“I am of the opinion that the 400 is the most taxing race among all of the track competitions, but that is what makes it so fun and challenging,” he said. “The secret to survival in the 400 is maintaining your injuries, because they are most assuredly going to come and you just have to know how to deal them. One thing I do is wear a different shoe on my outside and inside foot.

“Besides, you should see all the stuff that is recommended that I eat. I wolf down avocados, ice cream, olive oil, dark chocolate and nuts, lots of nuts … at least five pounds of peanuts a week,” he added with a chuckle. “So, if it weren’t for Costco I’d go broke.”

On the horizon for this gentleman speedster, who trains at Skyline and Issaquah high schools under the tutelage of Pacific Lutheran University sprint coach Michael Waller, are April’s World Championships in Brazil and July’s International Tournament in Italy.

“If this keeps up, I may have to seek out a sponsor or two,” he joked.

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