A Life: Christopher Bustard, 1988-2022; ‘Hanging with Chris was never dull’
|Published: 08-21-2023 10:04 AM
LEBANON — An unfortunate caveat of life is the uncertainty of how long one will have it. We typically expect to have years of living that they were never guaranteed and are too often prone to fritter away precious days on the assumption of having more.
Though Chris Bustard’s life was cut tragically short at the age of 34, he never squandered a moment of the time he had. A Dartmouth College alumnus and avid outdoor recreationalist, Bustard was constantly engaged in his passions, of which he had many. He could frequently be found skiing in the mountains or biking on backcountry trails. He ran nine ultra-marathons, races that are usually 100 miles or longer. He talked fervently about music and cars and was a coffee aficionado bent on finding “the perfect cup of espresso,” according to friend Meaghan Holmes.
Bustard reserved his greatest love for his wife, Kate Bustard, and his son, Theordore “Teddy” Bustard, who is now age 2.
“He really loved being a father,” Kate said. “He just had much joy in the little things that they would do together.”
Last December, Bustard won the lottery — literally and figuratively — when he was selected to race in the prestigious Western States Endurance Run, an annual 100-mile ultramarathon held on the Sierra Nevada Mountains trails in California. The Western States is the oldest and most competitive ultramarathon in the United States. Only 381 runners were chosen to participate in this year’s race, the majority of whom — in addition to completing a qualifying race — had to enter a lottery drawing.
This year’s Western States Endurance Run was held June 24-25. But Bustard would not be there.
On Dec. 23, 2022, Bustard was taking a five-mile run in a residential neighborhood in Sarasota, Fla., where he was visiting his parents during the Christmas holiday. While crossing a street in a school crosswalk, Bustard was struck by a car. He suffered a traumatic brain injury from the collision and died in the hospital, six days later on Dec. 29.
“It’s just devastatingly unfair,” friend Elizabeth Mitchell said. “He had so much excitement for life and for doing everything. And it’s just devastatingly unfair to think of how (he died). Of the many adventures and (challenging activities) he had done in his life, it was a little five-mile run in the neighborhood in the middle of the day.”
Bustard had a knack for defying assumptions about him. He grew up in Sarasota, but he felt a stronger connection to the New England region, which he had only visited on a few occasions with his parents, David and Elaine Bustard. And he was an exceptional skier, despite not seeing snow until the age of 10 and not strapping on a pair of skis until college.
“It’s just absurd to realize that he had never actually skied before Dartmouth,” Mitchell said. “I grew up in Hanover, and I grew up (ski) racing. And he was a much better skier than I am.”
Bustard was born in Mt. Kisco, N.Y., on July 12, 1988 — one month before his due date. At birth he suffered from respiratory distress syndrome, a breathing disorder in newborns caused by immature lungs. As a result of his breathing difficulties, he spent five days in the natal intensive care unit, where he was treated with an experimental trial medicine designed to open his lungs.
The medicine proved successful. Within 30 minutes of it being administered, Bustard was breathing normally and without machine support.
“Going from someone who had respiratory distress syndrome to an ultramarathoner, we thought was somewhat unique,” said David Bustard, Chris’ father.
Bustard was 3 years old when his family moved to Sarasota. Despite his lung issue at birth, he was naturally athletic and participated in a number of recreation sport leagues before discovering a sport he really enjoyed — rowing.
Bustard rowed on crew teams throughout high school and for nearly two years at Dartmouth College. During high school, he also developed a fondness for cross country running, his father said.
At Dartmouth — his father’s alma mater — Bustard studied engineering, graduating with two undergraduate degrees in 2010 and 2011 and obtaining a master’s degree in engineering management in 2014.
Bustard also minored in music and played bassoon in the Dartmouth Wind Ensemble.
According to his parents, Bustard chose the bassoon because his piano teacher said that playing “an unusual instrument” would improve his chances to get a music scholarship.
“When they started offering music in middle school, they happened to have a bassoon that wasn’t being used,” his father said. “So he took up the bassoon and went with that through all the youth orchestras in Sarasota, ultimately going to the youth philharmonic — the highest level of youth orchestra. And he competed in state competitions on the bassoon.”
Friends of Bustard considered him a free spirit, a fun-loving and supportive person who always sought new experiences and challenges.
“Chris was always someone I wanted to be around,” said Benjamin Meigs, Bustard’s friend of 15 years. “He was fun, really fun. He was up for anything. Hanging with Chris was never dull.”
Mitchell, also a Dartmouth graduate, first met Bustard on a freshman mountain biking trip to Moosilauke Ravine Lodge — a roughly 45-mile trek on trails split into three days of riding and camping each way.
On the return from the lodge, Bustard suggested to Mitchell that they ride home in a single day, which they did with one of the trip leaders.
“I think that just captures his personality,” Mitchell said. “Ever since I’ve known Chris, he’s always been an intense person, a very active person. His athletic feats were more numerous than I can capture, but he was always up for more. And he would always invite others, even if they didn’t have quite the same athletic prowess as him.”
Jonathan Shefftz, who organizes ski mountaineering races, or “skimo,” in the New England region, called Bustard’s ability to excel so quickly in skiing “mindboggling.”
“Skimo is also a format that tests both aerobic and anaerobic skills,” Shefftz said. “These races intentionally are set on the most difficult, ungroomed terrain to challenge racers and also to increase the safety aspect of the races, since having people ski the most difficult terrain is safer than having them ski fast down groomers. So it’s a format that tests your aerobic endurance because most of the time is spent essentially doing the equivalent of trail running.”
Bustard met Kate, his future wife, at a Dartmouth party in 2013. Kate, who graduated from Dartmouth five years before Bustard, was a friend and sorority sister of Mitchell.
“I had never thought to introduce the two of them, but they were such a perfect couple,” Mitchell said. “They are both so welcoming and are both storytellers who want to include you in everything, share all their life adventures with you and to say yes to everything. … It just made so much sense.”
Chris and Kate Bustard got engaged in 2016 on Mount Moosilauke, a 4,800-foot mountain in the White Mountains. They married in Hanover in 2017.
In 2019, Bustard achieved his greatest triumph as an ultramarathon runner – the Tor des Geants, a 205-mile race in the Aosta Valley of Italy. Considered one of the world’s most difficult races, runners must complete the race in 150 hours, or just over six days. The course provides about 50 rest areas where runners can eat, sleep or receive medical care.
Only 60% of runners complete the race. Bustard was among that group, finishing in just over 143 hours.
“Tor was that dream for me,” Bustard wrote in an online journal that year. “I think I found out about the Tor des Géants (about) a year before I even ran my first. … It stuck in my imagination. It became an ultimate goal, something I would dream about doing, but never sure it would become a reality.”
Kate joined Bustard in Italy as his crew, renting a car and meeting him at designated rest areas along the course to help him get replenished and reinvigorated.
“He was a partner in crime, a partner in parenting, a partner in life,” Kate Bustard said. “We worked together and helped each other and leaned on each other. It was really nice.”
In April 2021, Chris and Kate’s son Teddy was born. Friends and family said that becoming a father was Bustard’s proudest moment. Bustard flourished as a father while bolstering his partnership with Kate.
“They were a good tag team, Kate and Chris,” his mother, Elaine Bustard, said. “Kate might have to go to Boston or down to New York City on business, so he would become virtually a solo father for a few days at a time. But he really liked hanging out with Teddy, so it was OK.”
Teddy frequently accompanied Bustard on recreational outings, strapped in a child backback or riding in an attached carriage or a jogging stroller. Bustard even skied down Whaleback with Teddy on occasion..
“They just were having so much fun together,” Mitchell said. “I think Chris saw that he was able to share all the things he loved with somebody else and he was really happy and excited about that.”
Bustard was generous and caring, always available to friends in need of advice or support. And despite his competitive spirit, he was known to stop in the middle of a run to pet a cat.
“I think that was another thing that kind of drew me to him,” Kate Bustard said. ” He was just such a caring person.”
Bustard was an organ donor. Since his death, Bustard’s heart, kidneys and eyes have been donated to recipients, according to his parents.
Friends and family said they are still processing Bustard’s death. His parents said a full police investigation still has not been published, and they only know from the initial incident report that the driver had been a woman from out of town.
“We don’t even know whether she said that she saw him (crossing the street) or not,” Elaine Bustard said.
Kate Bustard noted that vehicle collisions are a common risk faced by runners, especially in high-density areas.
A report in 2022 by the Governors Highway Safety Association reported 7,485 pedestrian deaths in 2021 due to vehicle collisions, an increase of 12% from the previous year.
In 2022, Florida recorded 824 pedestrian deaths due to vehicle collisions, which was the second-highest in the country, according to a study by Smart Growth American, a community planning organization.
“It’s a sad truth,” Kate Bustard said. “And I think it has really brought home the fact that our life is temporary in a way that most people, including myself, certainly weren’t thinking about before this.”
Eight months since Bustard’s death, Kate Bustard continues to talk to Teddy — now 2 years old — about Chris, from the kind of person he was, his passions and what Chris and Teddy used to enjoy doing together.
Mitchell said she sees much of Bustard’s personality and spirit alive and well in Teddy.
“Teddy’s friend next door has a tricycle, and one day Teddy took my bike tools and went (next door), just tinkering with them, trying to fix the tricycle … He’s already a little mini-Bustard.”
Patrick Adrian may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 603.727-3216.