Running bacame a passion for the late Douglas Stinson

Early Sunday morning, Douglas Stinson kissed his wife, Wanda, goodbye and told her to be sure to bring back the T-shirt and medallion she was due for entering the Huey P. Long Bridge Run, but was unable to collect in person because she had back surgery earlier in the week.

He never returned.

Stinson, 59 of Marrero, collapsed and died less than a mile into the 5-kilometer race across the facility that celebrated its $1.2 billion renovation. The cause of death is unknown pending an autopsy, but Stinson had no history of heart problems or any other life-threatening condition.

Although it was extremely hot and humid, even at the 8 a.m. start time, Stinson had run for only a few minutes and had barely reached the up ramp on the West Bank side of the Mississippi River. And besides, as a crane operator and stevedore, he was certainly used to being outside.

“Our doctor told me Monday that Doug shouldn’t have died because he was one of the healthiest persons he’d ever seen,” Wanda Stinson said. “It makes no sense.”

Indeed, Stinson showed no distress before the race.

“He was just happy and cracking jokes to me about people who were worried that it was too hot, the bridge was too high,” said Marie Stinson, Douglas’ sister-in-law who was walking in the event. “He called them ‘wimps.’ ”

Apparently nothing could have saved Stinson’s life. A doctor and nurse running just behind him gave Stinson immediate attention on the scene, but he never responded.

Marie Stinson actually passed by her brother-in-law approximately two minutes after he had collapsed, but could not see that it was him because of the people around him.

It was only after she could not find him among the others in the completion area and realized his name was not on the finish list, she realized something was wrong.

“A woman running with me and I stopped and prayed for a few seconds because we could see it was bad,” she said. But I just never imagined anything like that could happen to Doug.”

While Wanda Stinson is obviously anxious to find out what killed her husband, with whom she’d celebrated their 41st anniversary on June 13, she and her large family — four children, 10 grandchildren with another one on the way, two great-grandchildren and a host of other in-laws, nieces and nephews — will bury their loved one Thursday with the knowledge that Douglas Stinson died doing one of his favorite things.

It wasn’t the only thing, of course.

Family came first. With the exception of youngest daughter April, the rest of the Stinsons lived on the West Bank and the Stinson home was a regular gathering place, so much so that nothing special had to be planned for Father’s Day for them to show up.

Great-granddaughter Kerionne, 2, was a particular favorite, She and “Bear,” the family chihuahua loved greening “Paw-Paw”: when he got home from his job at Cooper Consolidated in Laplace because she knew it would mean time together in his recliner.

“That little girl had him completely wrapped around his little finger,” Wanda Stinson said. “But they all did.”

Fishing was another favorite activity and “Daddy Doug” as he was known in the neighborhood, was known for his barbeques and crawfish boils.

And at work he was so skilled he could direct repairs to cranes in other locations over the phone.

But running had become special — so much so that family asked that the picture which ran with his obituary be one of him in a race instead of the usual mug shot. Joe Eagan III of Westside Leitz-Eagan where Stinson’s services are being held, said a request like that is extremely rare.

“It was something we could do together, sort of our own time,” Wanda Stinson said. “We’d always start a race together, and he’d say, ‘Watch out, I’m going to smoke you,’ and he’d take off.

“He’d especially rub it in when he got a medal and I didn’t. But then he’d always be at the finish line cheering for me.”

He came to competitive running late — prompted by the death of his brother, Charles, Marie’s husband, in 2009 at age 56 because of a heart attack.

Although he had had no physical problems other than two torn rotator cuffs and neck surgery and been an active blue-collar worker all of his adult life, Douglas Stinson decided that exercise would be a good way to help ensure that he wouldn’t befall the same fate as his brother, and could lose some weight (eventually 37 pounds) in the process.

He started our exercising at Snap Fitness, sometimes arising as early as 2 a.m. to get in a workout at its LaPlace location before work.

But after Wanda, who’d started running about the same time to try to stave off osteoarthritis, brought home a trophy for winning her age group, Douglas decided he wouldn’t mind earning some hardware of his own.

Together, they ran in the Saints Back to Football 5K and Crescent City Classic and several other races over the past two years.

Stinson never placed that highly. In the Crescent Connection Bridge Run, he, Wanda and niece Roberta Hawkins, competed, he was 19th in the 55-59 age group.

But he was proud of the medallions, particularly the ones for the first two legs of the bridge runs, the Crescent Connection and United Way of St. Charles 5K over the Hale Boggs Bridge back in April.

“He really loved those races,” said Douglas Stinson Jr., who, like his father has become a stevedore as has his son, Matthew. “I think it was getting to look down on the river and see all of those ships and barges like the ones he loaded.

“And then the idea of them shutting the bridge down during the race was something he really enjoyed. It was kind of like you had conquered the bridge.”

Wanda enjoyed running just as much, although the surgery she had just three days after the Crescent Connection run to hopefully relieve an hereditary condition, may limit her future road races to the walker’s division.

But she knows it won’t be the same.

“I wanted to go with him the other day for support, but he told me to stay at home because he was afraid my back would get infected for something,” she said. “That was the only time he ran a race without me.

“I could have never seen this coming. It’s just so hard to accept.”