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Dave Billings ushered in a golden era for Rockland County distance runners. In the 1970s, Rockland groomed a succession of state-caliber long distance runners, and Dave kick-started the evolution with a string of barrier-breaking performances.

Before Dave came along, the County record in the two-mile run was 9 minutes 50.0 seconds, set in 1970. Over a two-year period, Dave chopped an astounding 38 seconds off that mark. His clocking of 9:12.0 to win the 1972 outdoor New York State championship established a state public high school athletic association (NYSPHSAA) record and cemented his legend in Rockland track lore.

Dave was on fire during the 1972 spring track season. After a knee injury playing basketball sidelined him from February to early April, Dave plunged back into a ferocious training regimen engineered by Mike Redmond, a Nyack College All-America runner who had convinced him to try running two years before. “I was a defeated puppy with the injury, but Mike gave me back that confidence,” Dave says.

The result? Four meets, four County records, one State record: County meet, 9:22.4, breaking his own County-meet record of 9:30.2 and County overall standard of 9:22.6 set in ’71; Section 9 meet, 9:20.9; State Qualifier, 9:14.1; and State meet, 9:12.0.

Goodbye Hoops, Hello Track, XC

Dave was an unlikely candidate to become a record-breaking state champion. Beset by what he called a troubled youth, he endured the death of his twin sister, Connie, at age 13 due to cancer. He also had a rebellious streak. At the end of his sophomore year at Nyack High School, he received a school suspension for an altercation with a teacher, and the detentions carried over to his junior year.

The transformation from uninspired basketball player to standout runner began the summer between 10th and 11th grade, when Redmond spotted Dave playing basketball on the outdoor courts at Nyack College. Redmond saw distance-running potential in Dave’s tall, thin frame. “He told me, ‘I could make you one of the best runners in the state,’” Dave recounts. “He would pick me up at 5:30 each morning and by 6 a.m. we’d be running six miles.”

When the fall season rolled around, Dave asked Nyack coach Joe McDowell if he could come out for the cross country team. Mindful of Dave’s discipline problems in school, McDowell was skeptical, but eventually relented. “Since we had only six guys, Joe McDowell said that OK, I could be his seventh man,” Dave remembers with a chuckle.

Logging as much as 18 miles a day, Dave had found his athletic calling. He won the first cross country race he entered, a dual meet versus Suffern, and was second in the County meet to Tappan Zee’s Joe Olcese. In the spring, Dave was the County’s premier two-miler and shadowed Olcese in the mile. In his senior year, he went undefeated in cross country as he swept the County, Section 9 and New York State Class B titles, won his division in the Eastern States meet and captured the AAU junior (19 and younger) title over a 4-mile course at Van Cortlandt Park. [In 2000 Dave was elected to the Rockland County All-Century Cross Country team.]

College Success & Answering Call of the Ministry

After graduating from Nyack High in 1972, Dave enrolled at Nyack College, which is not surprising since his parents, Nathaniel and Virginia, both were professors and missionaries at the college, a Christian missionary institute. At Nyack College, Dave continued his successful cross country career (Nyack had no track program), twice earning NAIA All-America honors. In his sophomore year, he captured the National Christian College Athletic Association championship. Dave also won three conference titles and twice earned the Outstanding College Athlete award at Nyack.

After stints at Taylor University in Indiana and Monmouth College in New Jersey, Dave returned to Nyack and graduated in 1978. Following the career path of his father, an ordained minister, Dave obtained a master’s degree at the Alliance Theological Seminary in Nyack in 1979. From 1979 to ’87 he worked for church-affiliated organizations, including a fulfilling role as executive director for a youth ministry in Ocean Grove, N.J.

Still in his running prime during that period, Dave established himself as one of the finest road-racers in the metropolitan region and southern New Jersey for distances ranging from the 5K (3.1 miles), 5 miles and 10K (6.2 miles) up to the marathon. Among his noteworthy efforts was an excellent clocking of 2 hours 27 minutes 13 seconds in the Jersey Shore Marathon, his debut at the 26.2-mile distance. That performance ranks in the top five all-time for Rockland running alumni.

Around that time Dave began coaching other runners. He has since coached four high school teams – St. John’s Vianney in New Jersey, Seymour HS and Christian Heritage HS in Connecticut, and Mount Academy in Esopus, N.Y. – as well as two college teams, Nyack and St. Thomas Aquinas, several post-collegiate elite runners, and others just training for local races or trying to get in shape through running.

In 1987, Dave’s vocational calling took him to Laconia, N.H., where he presided as pastor of the Christian Missionary Alliance (CMA) church for four years. He then helped found a CMA church in Oxford, Conn., and led that congregation for eight years before a one-year stint as pastor in Lombard, Ill.

Returning to Rockland and Orange

The new millennium brought Dave back to Rockland County. After spending the first four years of his life in the Ivory Coast in West Africa, where his parents were missionaries, Dave moved with his family to Nyack at age 4. He served as pastor at the Evangelical Free Church of America in New City from 2000 to 2006, and has been pastor for the past 15 years at the Middletown Alliance Church, now Crossroads Church, CMA,  in Middletown, N.Y.

Dave is owner/operator of Lifeworks International, which helps people develop their potential through life coaching, leadership coaching and coaching runners. He is a life and leadership coach/country coordinator to CMA International workers in the Middle East and Central Asia – Russia, Ukraine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Israel.

In the local community, Dave serves as chaplain and running coach of the Run with God training group for runners and walkers, which he co-founded. The group’s motto is “connecting fitness and faith.” He is also Run/Walk training group coach and a board member at the Middletown YMCA, and  formerly served as vice president, chaplain and running coach for the Orange Runners Club. He has helped direct and consult for various races in Orange County, including the popular Classic 10K (formerly Orange Classic), and still maintains connections to his Rockland running roots as a member of the Rockland Road Runners club.

Dave, who is 69, and his wife, Carol, have been married for 46 years and reside in Wallkill Township in Orange County. They have four grown children: twins Bjorn and Kristin, 45; Leif, 42; and Hans, 40, and five grandchildren ranging in age from 12 to 17.

Dave was inducted into the Rockland County Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2005, and was enshrined in the Nyack High School Athletics Hall of Fame in 2017.