Richard “Dick” Goto, Juneau’s most recognizable runner, is all a bit bewildered by being singled out for a newspaper article. There are plenty of other people doing the same thing that he does, his thinking goes.
“I’m just a regular person, I mean, I’ve gone out there, I’ve seen people dog-gone doing the same thing I am,” Goto said. “I can’t really figure out what’s so special about what I’m doing.”
But there are numerous things that separate the 75-year-old jogger from others. It would be no stretch to say Goto has logged more miles on Juneau soil than any other runner in the last three decades. Discounting the time spent away from Juneau, Goto has run every single morning since moving to town in 1984. His leisurely pace, blue jeans and choppy strides are a familiar sight to morning commuters in the Mendenhall Valley. He begins around 6 a.m. and follows some iteration of the same general route: start on James Boulevard, run down Riverside Drive, turn on Gee Street, turn again on Mendenhall Loop Road and return to the start.
“As long as I’m on my feet, I’ll keep on doing it,” Goto said in an interview Thursday with the Empire. “When I can’t, I won’t. Lately, what I’ve done since I’ve retired, I’ve been … taking up hiking to kind of supplement that.”
Perhaps that’s why Goto opted for a slightly shorter jog the following morning, turning around at Gee Street and crossing over on Stephen Richards on the way back. After the 35-minute jog, there’s no sweat detectable on his face or gray-and-black hair. His breathing is normal, a sign of the superb cardiovascular fitness 50 years of running will do for you.
“I found out a long time ago that if I … didn’t do anything, I didn’t feel as good as when I did,” Goto said.
He could care less about mile splits and 5Ks. A self-described “private person,” Goto always runs alone. He doesn’t wear a stopwatch and a pair of New Balance will last him three or four years. He prefers blue jeans over shorts and a high-visibility rain jacket over a windbreaker. On his recent jaunt through the Valley, Goto sports a red and blue-striped collared shirt under his jacket.
“I’m comfortable in it,” Goto said of his clothing choices.
Goto’s daily routine — or attire — hasn’t gone unnoticed. City and Borough of Juneau Assembly member Jerry Nankervis moved to Juneau just three years after Goto and has watched him run countless times on Riverside Drive.
“He used to run in non-running shoes and blue jeans and a sweatshirt,” Nankervis said. “And he still runs in blue jeans and a sweatshirt — but not your typical running gear. And that’s what caught my attention and he’s still chugging along after all these years. I think that’s pretty impressive.”
Nankervis isn’t the only fan of Goto. A Facebook post inquiring about Goto was met with over 60 comments, many containing expressions of admiration and wonder. Individuals shared the nicknames they or their kids have come up with: “Energizer bunny,” “Forrest,” “The Jogger.”
“He makes me smile every time I see him,” one person wrote.
“I worry if I don’t see him for a long stretch and then inevitably I do and feel relieved,” wrote another.
But there is much more to Goto than how he spends his mornings.
‘A real fixture’
Four years ago Goto retired from a 30-year career at the United States Postal Service. As a distribution clerk, he worked behind the scenes on a swing shift in the dispatch department, sorting the incoming and outgoing mail. He first worked at the Federal Building branch downtown; later, at the newly-constructed Mendenhall Post Office.
Being a public servant meant something to Goto. “I liked the idea that I was dog-gone performing a service moving people’s mail,” Goto said.
John Zahasky spent over 25 years with Goto at the postal service and remembers him as a quiet but hard-working and dedicated employee. Occasionally the two would strike up a conversation about a mutual interest, such as books, but they mostly kept to themselves. When Goto was on the clock, he was there to work, said Zahasky. He was never late — if anything, he was too early — arriving at the station 20 minutes before he was allowed to clock in.
“He was just a real fixture and when he left, I think it left a pretty good-sized hole,” Zahasky said. “Nobody said anything bad about him. I mean, that says a lot to me.”
Goto didn’t allow his small stature get in the way of doing his job, said Zahasky.
“He could lift up these humongous bags of mail,” Zahasky said. “The bags can be up to 70 pounds and there was nothing that he couldn’t pick up. He’s a strong man.”
A librarian in the desert
Before enjoying his long career with the postal service, Goto dipped his toes into several different fields. The California native graduated from Fresno State University with a Bachelor’s degree in journalism and enjoyed a short stint as a sports editor at the Madera Daily Tribune, his hometown newspaper, before joining the U.S. Army in 1964.
“They were fighting the Vietnam War there so it really got hot, and (when) it got hot they (were) really dog-gone drafting kids right and left,” Goto said.
After getting out of the army in 1967, Goto took advantage of his GI bill and went back to school, and headed to the University of Southern California and got a Masters degree in Library Science.
“I’ve always been interested in books,” said Goto. He likes everything from histories to novels. “I read a lot. Since I’ve retired I’ve been going to the library quite often, looking through the collections and stuff, seeing what’s new, checking things out.”
Goto worked as a librarian in Needles, California, a small town in the Mojave Desert across the Colorado River from Arizona. It was in this small desert community that Goto began fantasizing about Alaska.
“I used to run across what they call snowbirds down there,” Goto said. “The people that came from (Alaska), flocked down to the Colorado River for the wintertime. We used to have a bookmobile from the library to (serve) the people out there. They used to live in the river camps and so forth. And they told me kind of a lot about Alaska.”
So too did John McPhee’s nonfiction account of Alaska history, “Coming Into the Country.” The book further stimulated Goto’s imagination about the 49th state.
“It made quite an impression on me, really,” Goto said. “He was telling about all these people that came up here and got involved in the things with their communities and all that.”
After about three years of working in Needles, Goto packed his bags again and enrolled in the Colorado School of Trades near Denver, an institution that teaches gunsmithing. Goto moved back to Madera and did some gunsmithing work at his father’s raisin farm. It wasn’t what he had hoped for. He decided it was time to give Alaska a try.
“To me, it was something new, it was kind of like an adventure really,” Goto said.
He never regretted the decision. Goto moved to the community of North Pole in 1983 where he stayed with his friend’s son’s family. When the family moved to Juneau the very next year, Goto followed them there, and has felt at home ever since.
“I’ve never found a place like Juneau before, I really like it here,” Goto said. “I can’t think of going anywhere else.”
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.