‘Running’s my passion, golf’s my recreation’
EAGLE -Richard Sutton has friendly eyes, a warm smile, and a lean frame. He doesn’t look like a defensive back, a cop or a probation officer. Most recently, he has added cancer survivor to his long list of accomplishments.Regular golfers at Eagle Ranch know Sutton, and tend to greet him with enthusiasm 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,” golf director Jeff Boyer says. There’s plenty of strength beneath Sutton’s lanky, six-foot-plus frame. His recent battle with cancer has whittled off some pounds. Years of running races provided lean muscle before that. Observers would never guess Sutton once weighed 250 pounds. Nor would you guess, watching this energetic supervisor of starters at Eagle Ranch Golf Course, that not long ago, one doctor gave him only three days to live.’Incredible rewards’ Sutton has always ignored naysayers when they’ve told him things are impossible. Born in Emporia, Kan., Sutton moved to Pueblo, Colo. 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. While in the military, he married his first wife (Sutton’s been married three times), with whom he had four children.After leaving the Air Force, he moved his young family to Colorado Springs and became a police officer. A year later, he was a probation officer for the district court, where he remained for several years.In the 1960s, Sutton, a manager of Mountain Bell and a high school counselor started the country’s first volunteer program for the adult probation system. 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 proceeded, and the program was a success, he says. Parolees were released in an average of 18- to 36 months, instead of the mandatory five years of parole. In all his years as parole officer, Sutton says he only revoked parole a few times.Governor appointmentIn 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 a ruling was handed down by the Supreme Court giving basic due process rights to parolees in 1972, it was Sutton who wrote the compliance rules for the Colorado Parole Board. He also served as president of the Colorado Correctional Association in 1970.
At times, Sutton had 400 or more cases assigned to him. “I had to make the decision of who stayed in the penitentiary system and who went home,” and his decisions were not always appreciated, he says. When Sutton left the parole board in 1985, he talked to 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,” Sutton says. 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. Although his years working in the parole system were admittedly tough and often heart breaking, “there were incredible rewards at the other end,” Sutton says. Passionate about racingWhen Sutton’s weight reached 250 pounds, he turned to running to get in shape. In 1975, he began running religiously, and by 1978 he had not only dropped the pounds, he had found a passion.In 1978, he ran a 10K race, and then the 6 1/2-hour Pikes Peak Marathon. That led to a 12-year stint as the director of the finish line for the Pikes Peak Marathon.
From 1978 to 1990, he created or directed some 300 races around the region, including helping to start the Garden of the Gods race and the Triple Crown of Running in Colorado Springs. He also became the president of the Pikes Peak Roaders in 1980.When the National Sports Festivals (later the Olympic Sports Festivals) were started in 1978 to provide off-year competition for Olympic athletes, Sutton worked as a starter, and was later named director of track and field for one of the events. He also appointed local runners for the festivals’ torch run.After working for a couple of years as security manager for the tracking center at Denver International Airport, Sutton began feeling unwell. At the same time, the security company he worked for lost its contract with DIA. Sutton then moved in with his son Scott, a member of the Vail Search and Rescue Team, who lived in Gypsum. They have since moved to Eagle. In 2001, Sutton saw an oncologist at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction about his tumors. He underwent two months of radiation treatment, but refused the medicine that usually accompanies the treatment. He says he is healing and credits his recovery to herbal treatments. “Maybe it’s because I’m not using drugs,” he says. Next month, Sutton will turn 70. He is still runs competitively, and considering getting back into marathons, he says. Sutton says he feels great these and continues to use his herbs and oils. He plays golf every day he can during the off season, and runs every morning before work. “Running’s my passion, golf’s my recreation,” Sutton says.