Bucking all odds: Eagle Ranch’s Richard Sutton stands defiant
Vail CO, Colorado
Richard Sutton’s warm, friendly eyes gleam like the metal on the edge of a sharp knife.
Eagle Ranch golf starter’s warm smile and lean frame belies some of his past incarnations as a defensive back, a cop, or a probation officer ” a few of the ways he made a living before becoming Eagle Ranch’s one-man welcoming committee. Most recently, he has added cancer survivor to his long list of accomplishments.
Regular golfers at Eagle Ranch know Sutton and are always glad to see him at the start of each season.
“They say hello to me and shake my hand, but they hug Richard when they see him for the first time,” said Jeff Boyer, Eagle Ranch golf director.
Sutton’s lanky frame is six-feet of solid steel. His latest battle with cancer whittled off some pounds. Years of running races built lean muscle before that. Friends and acquaintences would never guess Sutton once weighed 250 pounds. Nor would you guess that not long ago, one doctor gave him only three days to live.
Seven years ago, right before he moved to Eagle County, Sutton’s normally abundant energy was lagging.
“My body wasn’t right,” explains Sutton. “Things just weren’t right.”
In searching for the cause he didn’t have to look far. He has suffered tiny tumors on his upper torso since the 1960s. For more than four decades he has battled basal cell carcinoma.
The first time he found the small bumps, doctors burned them off. Years later when the bumps persisted, he turned to a an oil remedy discovered at a health food store. For many years, the oil successfully removed tumors as they appeared.
But, he says, “Every few years there is another spot on my shoulders or arms.”
In 1994, he participated in a clinical study on skin cancer at the University of Colorado Medical School, which used a breast cancer treatment successfully on tumors on his neck. But the study was only eight weeks long … and the tumors kept on coming.
In the late 1990s a patch of tumors appeared near the top of his head. He began treating it, with some success, with a mushroom concoction recommended at one health food store. When another patch appeared on his shoulder, he tried it again.
Weeks later the spot erupted into a large dome-shaped tumor on top of his shoulder. Doctors were perplexed.
Sutton kept on treating the tumor himself. But as it started to slowly detach, an infection began to grow, which turned gangrenous.
At last Sutton turned again to doctors. A dermatologist/plastic surgeon took one look at Sutton and his tumors and declared he had three days to live; maybe eight months if he underwent a radical skin graph.
Sutton, already deeply distrustful of the medical profession, got dressed and went home.
Sutton has always ignored naysayers who told him things are impossible.
Born in Emporia, Kan., Sutton moved to Pueblo with his family during the Depression. The family moved to La Junta in 1949.
Sutton played running back and defensive back for his high school football team and ran track. His 4-by-440 relay team still holds the school record for the mile relay. He also played football at Otero Junior College before joining the Air Force. He married his first wife (Sutton’s been married three times), and started his family of four children while stationed in Rapid City, S.D. When he was transferred to England, he coached the Air Force’s football and track teams.
After the service he landed a job as a police officer in Colorado Springs and relocated his young family. A year later, he was hired as the assistant chief adult probation officer for the district court.
During his tenure as probation officer in the 1960s, he teamed with a manager of Mountain Bell and a high school counselor to start the country’s first adult probation system volunteer program. A similar program had been successful in the juvenile system, but his superiors predicted an adult program would never work because inmates would murder or rape volunteers. The American Correction Association sent Sutton a scathing letter, warning him that his project could “ruin the system.”
He went ahead anyway and the program was a huge success. Parolees were released in an average of 18-36 months, instead of the mandatory five years parole.
Sutton says there were no repeat offenders under his watch. The program became the model for other fledgling programs around the country and Sutton was frequently consulted for advice.
Sutton also started an Antabuse (a drug that discourages alcohol use) program with inmates. Again, critics predicted it would fail. It didn’t.
Success generally came one person at a time.
Like that anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination when one of his parolees showed up announcing he was going to shoot every cop he saw … until one killed him. Knowing he could not reach help in time, Sutton pulled his own revolver from his desk drawer and handed it to the man, saying, “You’ll have to go through me.” The parolee smiled and left. A week later he had a job, and a few weeks later he was released from parole.
In 1970, the Colorado Legislature created a full-time parole board. Sutton won an appointment from then Governor John Love, and served under three subsequent governors. When Sutton left the parole board in 1985, he met with a criminal who had once taken a $25,000 contract out on Sutton’s life.
The man broke down crying when he heard Sutton was about to leave, moaning, “you are the only person who ever listened to me.”
During this time, Sutton, who had never finished college, went back and obtained both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees with emphasis in the criminal justice system and psychology. He also swelled to 250 pounds and in 1975 he began running religiously, in 1978 entering a 10k race then the six-and-a-half hour Pikes Peak Marathon. From 1978 to 1990, he created or directed some 300 races around the regions, including helping start the Garden of the Gods race and the Triple Crown of Running in Colorado Springs.
Sutton is now 70 and still competing in running races. He’s considering getting back into marathons.
He tried another doctor in 2001, an oncologist at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, with a more positive outcome. Two months of radiation treatment saw remarkable healing, even with him refusing the medicine iin favor of his herbal treatments.
So far the radiation has done the trick. Sutton says he feels great, he’s continuing his herbs and oils, plays golf every day he can and runs every morning before work. “Running’s my passion; golf’s my recreation,” he said.
Sutton lost his four front teeth to the radiation treatment and had to quit his job as a security guard at the Hotel Colorado. Immediately after his treatment ended, he landed a job at the Eagle Ranch Golf Course and has been there since it opened.
“He’s just an extremely dedicated employee,” says Boyer. “I think Richard gives 110 percent all the time and probably cares more about our customers’ happiness than anybody, including me. All of us care a lot about them, but Richard just really wants them to be happy out here and happy on the course.”
Sutton says he has met many wonderful people at the golf course. “It’s been a wonderful experience,” he says.
His caring attitude remains strong.
“If we can’t help each other, what can we do?” he says.