So long, Voodoo Joe

I’ve met dozens of quirky characters in my years of running. But Joe Truini, a wonderful friend who died two weeks ago at age 37 of a heart attack, was a breed apart.

He was a big, solid guy, who developed his brawn from boxing and weight-lifting. He loved to look outrageous. The first time I met him, he had a shaved head. The last few years I knew him, he sported long dreadlocks.

More than once, he ran wearing nothing but a Tarzan loincloth and running shoes. I know. I ran alongside him for several miles at the Akron Marathon in 2007, while he was wearing such a get-up. His appearance fetched whistles and catcalls from the sidewalk crowd. He loved it.

A few days after that race, I asked him if he had second thoughts about the Tarzan look.

“That crazy costume was the most comfortable thing I’ve ever run in!” he replied in an e-mail. “Got a million and one comments and people at the finish wanted to take pictures with me, as if I were some sort of mascot.”

And he gladly spent time posing with anyone who asked.

The great thing about Joe was that despite his tough-guy exterior, he was such a gentle pussycat, with  a huge smile and a gentle voice. You just couldn’t help liking him. Don’t believe me? Check out his Facebook page. It’s filled with dozens and dozens of comments, many of them runners he befriended over the years. They almost all speak of his kindness and gentle spirit.

Or just Google his name, and you will see one running forum after another, with tributes to Joe. His friends called him Voodoo Joe. In a nice way, of course.

I first met him in1995, when we worked together as reporters for a business newspaper in Akron, Ohio. He was a bulldog in the newsroom who always got his information.

A few years later, Joe took up running on the trails near his office, in the Summit Metroparks and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. On the trails, he was a a little kid, full of joy.

He gradually became a marathoner and ultrarunner. In the first few months of this year, he ran five marathons, with decent times for a big guy: New Orleans Mardi Gras (3:55), St. Louis (3:56), Pittsburgh (3:45), Cleveland (3:48) and Deadwood Mickelson Trail (4:08).

Every time I went back to Akron for a visit, I would call Joe. He would drop what he was doing and hit the trails with me. It was wonderful to spend a few hours catching up. I always got a kick out of this tough-looking dude who was such a meek, lovable guy. He would also greet me with a smile and offer to drive me anywhere I needed to go.

He amazed me with the amount of running he did. This spring, he ran two marathons within three weeks. Sandwiched in between, he set a PR at the Glass City Half Marathon.

He ran his first and only ultra at the Buckeye Trail 50K a few years ago. It was his first trail race. He chattered non-stop with other runners, and even carried a disposable camera to catch all the sights. He seemed to enjoy every minute of running.

those two marathons he set a PR at the Glass City half marathon.

On the last week of his life, during a 20-mile run, Joe got stung by a bee or wasp. He posted an item about it on his Facebook page. A day or two later, he was found dead at home. I still wonder if the two things were connected.

Joe, we miss you. Wherever you are, go set another PR.

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4 Responses to “So long, Voodoo Joe”

  1. Voodoo Joe's Cousin Says:

    Trail Boy- Thanks for the wonderful story about my cousin. Two weeks later I’m still shocked about his early death, especially someone so kind to everyone he met. He loved talking about his accomplishments. Not to brag about what he could do, more so to speak of something he was familiar just to strike a conversation. He unknowingly inspired many along the way and I only wish he knew the impact he had when he was alive.

    I wanted to respond to you questioning the cause of his death being linked to a bee sting. He actually ran 20 miles the day before he died. However, the sting was never found to be the cause. He had a heart attack in his sleep do to an enlarged heart. I’m thankful to know that he past silently in his sleep but very saddened it happened at such a young age.

    • Joe and I crossed paths on his 20 miler and he was all smiles. I know he was running 20 because he shouted out that he was finishing his 20 miler. He was a good guy and he will be missed.

  2. Gary Ilijevich Says:

    Thanks for posting this story. I still think of him when I run.

  3. Damn, hard to believe a year has gone by.

    RIP Voo

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