Three-time Olympian Bruce MacDonald gave everything he had to the sport of track and field. When he needed it most, those whose lives he touched gave it right back. When MacDonald’s Port Washington home burned down in early 2015, the track community sprinted to his side, raising enough money through fundraisers to allow him to move into the nearby Amsterdam assisted living community.
“Community surrounded him all the time,” said niece Ellen Grawe, 52, of Pennsylvania.
MacDonald, who told people that he never dropped out of a race, was a force at the national level. MacDonald finished 16th in the 20-kilometer race walk at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, 23rd in the 50K walk at the 1960 Rome Games, and 26th in the 50K walk at the 1964 Tokyo Games.
MacDonald, who also coached both the boys and girls track teams at Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington for 58 years, died March 30 at the Tuttle Center on the campus of the Amsterdam in Port Washington, his family said. He was 92.
“When Bruce spoke, he had the most beautiful eyes, and they took in every single detail and sparkled,” said niece Jennifer Loftus, 54, of Pennsylvania.
MacDonald was later an assistant coach of the U.S. men’s track and field team at the 1972 Munich Olympics Games and the 1976 games in Montreal. He also served as a radio operator for the race walk competitions at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and was a racewalking official at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, according to his resume.
Despite his considerable accomplishments at the highest level of the sport, MacDonald didn’t like to brag. Loretta Schuellein, an athlete coached by MacDonald and a longtime friend, said she would prod him for stories of his Olympic days, including when an Israeli race walker called him and fellow Americans to alert them of the terrorist attack that later defined the 1972 Munich Games.
“Some of the stories he did share were just jaw-dropping,” said Schuellein, 42, of Locust Valley. “But, for the most part, he was incredibly humble. I used to brag about him to the people in the Amsterdam because he wouldn’t, and I wanted to make sure people understood what a powerful and impactful person he was.”
Born on Oct. 22, 1927, MacDonald was raised in Douglaston, Queens, and lived in Port Washington for his entire adult life. He went to college at New York University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in health education in 1951 and a master’s degree in safety education in 1957. He taught health and driver’s ed at Schreiber High School until his retirement in1991 and continued to coach the track team until 2015. He was inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame in 1995, his resume said.
“He wasn’t just a good race walk coach, he was a good coach in general, for a lot of different events,” said Ron Daniel, 78, of Connecticut, another athlete whom MacDonald coached.
MacDonald loved collecting stuffed animals and would often give them out as gifts to friends and family.
“He was a child at heart,” Schuellein said.
In addition to Loftus and Grawe, he is survived by niece Anne Johnston and nephew Matt MacDonald, both of New Jersey. A memorial service will be held at a later date. MacDonald was cremated and his ashes will be buried at Flushing Cemetery, Loftus said.