Tuesday, June 23, 1992
Orange County Edition
Ex-Running Star Hulst Dies of Brain Cancer at 34;
By: BARBIE LUDOVISE
TIMES STAFF WRITER
"His passing was very gentle," Sharon Hulst said. "Just as he was."
Certainly, track statisticians might remember Hulst for his impressive
strength and endurance. His best time of 8 minutes 44.6 seconds, clocked
as a senior in 1976, ranks him as the sixth-fastest prep two-miler in
U.S. history. Hulst's tenacity, his rivals said, was what made him
Hulst, they said, didn't run for trophies or headlines, but rather
for the simple pleasure of seeing how far and fast his body could go.
And, even in recent years, he could never understand why other runners,
some he didn't even know, came up to shake his hand.
"He was just pure that way," said Ralph Serna, a top rival of Hulst's
while at Loara High, and later a teammate at UC Irvine. "It wasn't for
the glory or the records. It was just for the love of running.
"If I knew anyone who was into 'Zen and the pure art of running,' it
was Eric. He was less cocky than anyone I met."
Hulst certainly had reason to be proud of his accomplishments. As a
freshman at Laguna Beach, he decided to go out for cross-country to get
in shape for tennis, his first love. But he became a running sensation
Hulst ran 9:04.4 for the two miles as a freshman, 8:50.6 as a
sophomore and 8:44.9 as a junior--all stand as national class records
today. He won three Southern Section cross-country titles and the world
cross-country championship for juniors (19-and-under) in 1976.
His training sometimes brought him as much notoriety as his racing.
Hulst ran up to 130 miles a week, sometimes while wearing a lead vest or
carrying four-pound hand weights he made from steel pipes filled with
casings of bullets he collected from a nearby shooting range.
"All to combat Ralph Serna's kick," Hulst said with a laugh earlier
The Hulst-Serna duels often brought crowds to their feet. Serna, who
weighed about 100 pounds, had perfect form and superior speed. Hulst was
a muscular front-runner, able to set a fast pace and stick with it.
"Eric had one gear and it was to the wall," said Doug Speck of Track
& Field News.
Said Serna: "It was especially difficult to run against Eric because
there was no way to psyche him out. . . . At the State meet (in 1975), he
led the entire race. I stayed right behind him. With 300 meters to go, I
tried to pass, but he reacted. I came up on his shoulder, but he held me
off. I tried to pass him on the backstretch, too--he held me off again.
Coming into the homestretch, he had me."
By a margin of 8:44.9 to 8:45.9.
"I think Eric was the most prolific high school runner I ever saw,"
said Len Miller, who coached Hulst in his early years at Laguna Beach and
later at UCI. "If you think about Steve Prefontaine or Jim Ryun, Eric
Hulst as a high school distance runner was as great as any of them."
But in college, a knee injury, along with an increasing disinterest
in academics, led Hulst to drop out after his sophomore year. Years
later, he reflected on the abrupt finish to his career without
bitterness. He developed other interests such as photography and working
with stained glass. He rode his bicycle, sometimes hundreds of miles in
"Athletes need to understand there are other things," he said.
When doctors told him in the spring of 1991 they would have to
surgically remove a large tumor in his brain, Hulst remained positive.
Months later, after six weeks of radiation therapy, he started daily
physical rehabilitation, and constructed pulleys over the head of his bed
to strengthen his arms and shoulders.
Throughout his remission, Hulst spoke of riding his bike again and
gaining enough mobility in his fingers to play guitar. He started making
plans for a career in photography, and, possibly, a return to competitive
All the while, he seemed to have little trouble making light of his
cancer. He made jokes often, and said he often closed his eyes and
visualized standing just outside his ear. Jesus would be standing at his
side, with a blowtorch in his hand.
"We'd walk into my ear and find the tumor," Hulst said. "I'd say,
'C'mon, Jesus, let's go torch that little sucker."
A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Tuesday, June 30 at
Mariners Church in Newport Beach. The service is open to the public and
will feature a short video highlighting Hulst's life and passages from
his training diaries.
A reception will follow outside the church, beside the large,
jacaranda tree planted last month as a memorial to Hulst.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that those wishing to donate
do so through the Laguna Beach High School Foundation, care of Laguna
Beach High School, 625 Park Ave., Laguna Beach, 92651. A $500 annual
scholarship has been set up in Hulst's name.
PHOTO: A Competitor to the End: Eric Hulst, above, running in the
1975 State championships, stays in front of Ralph Serna, his longtime
rival from Loara High School. Hulst, who graduated from Laguna Beach and
later was a teammate of Serna's at UC Irvine, led the entire two miles,
according to Serna. "I stayed right behind him," he said. "With 300
meters to go, I tried to pass, but he reacted. I came up on his shoulder,
but he held me off. I tried to pass him on the backstretch, too--he held
me off again. Coming into the homestretch, he had me." Hulst won by a
margin of 8:44.9 to 8:45.9. When he was in high school, right, Hulst
would rise before dawn for early morning distance work.
PHOTOGRAPHER: Los Angeles Times
PHOTO: Eric Hulst