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The race, he says, was an almost forgotten issue. Campbell finished 69th. He quit running. "I had to start thinking about other things, about making money," he says.
Back home, Campbell married, fathered two children and got divorced. He jogged occasionally, but always he worked—as a janitor, as a milliner, as a deliveryman. He bought his own milk business. And he became a fisherman. For 15 years he worked the seas off South Island, first as a crewman, later with his own boats.
He made a brief comeback to competition in '73, inspired by the fact that the Commonwealth Games were to be held the following year in Christchurch. After a crash training program, Campbell came within a second of qualifying for the New Zealand squad at 5,000 meters, then promptly quit running again in frustration. "Well, I'd given it a go," he says.
Campbell was a spectator in Queen Elizabeth II Park arena when his countryman Foster, 42, finished second in the marathon to Ian Thompson of England, and set the masters record that would last for 16 years. "It didn't really register," says Campbell. "I might have thought, Good on ye, Jack. But I didn't know anything about masters running. No one did. Anyway, I was an ex-runner by then."
Ask Campbell to recall the date of an an event in his life, and his response is more than likely to come in the form of a question—"I don't know, 1977? 78?"—like a kid guessing on a history test. But there are incidents that demand recall, if not precise dating. Like that midwinter morning—"I don't know, 1976? 77?"—Campbell and his skipper, Colin Gamble, were on a 35-foot steel trawler three miles off South Island, hauling lobster pots. One of the pots snagged, and the boat overturned, dumping the two men into the 50� water. Gamble drowned. "I never saw him," says Campbell, who was able to scramble onto the upturned keel and stand there until the boat sank beneath him. Now with no choice, he began to swim toward land.
He took one last look behind—"just saying goodbye"—and there was the life raft. It had worked free from under the boat and popped to the surface. Campbell spent nine hours shivering in the raft before he was spotted and picked up by a rescue helicopter.
"What was I thinking?" says Campbell. "I was thinking about bailing."
You get on with the job. Two days later, he was back fishing.
Campbell's second retirement from running lasted nearly a decade, until the day in '83 when he decided he had to turn things around. "I'd been doing some maintenance work on a fishing boat and I was sitting there on the dock, a hamburger in one hand and a beer in the other," says Campbell. "A woman friend of mine said, 'Well, John, you're about due for a heart attack.' " The 5'10" Campbell had ballooned to 190 pounds—45 more than his running weight.
"You lose track," he says. "You're working hard, fishing or whatever, but it's not the same, kind of effort. I knew I had to get back." Typically, Campbell went all out on his return to the sport—"really flogging myself," he says—and within six weeks, after losing most of those excess pounds, he ran a marathon in the startling time of 2:22.