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A heartfelt tribute: OD's contribution to the sports industry

SNEWS® decided to spearhead a heartfelt tribute to OD, giving a few of his many industry friends and colleagues a chance to tell him and others what they love about him, the funny stories they recall, and his beautiful sense of humor.

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Dennis “OD” O’Donnell, a good industry friend to many, has been fighting ALS for about three years. Officially called “amyotrophic lateral sclerosis” but best known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, ALS still has not found a cure, although efforts are moving faster.

SNEWS® decided to spearhead a heartfelt tribute to OD, giving a few of his many industry friends and colleagues a chance to tell him and others what they love about him, the funny stories they recall, and his beautiful sense of humor. In our request for stories, we also received dozens of messages of best wishes. SNEWS® has also set up a Forum page for others to contribute their stories and thoughts. Click here to visit the SNEWS® Forum.

OD (no, despite what many thought at first, that did not ever mean “overdose” unless it was overdose of humor) has only been in the sporting goods/fitness industry for about 14 years, and was formerly a sales guy for Proctor & Gamble. A drive to spend more time at home in the beautiful wine country region of Northern California, Napa, and with his family and wife, Barbara, brought him aboard at Harbinger where he led sales for nearly seven years. After that he worked independently under the OD Sales Agency umbrella, representing of late both Valeo and Fitness Quest, as well as a few others.

Meanwhile, as the disease progresses, OD and Barbara are spending a lot of their time at a home in the Phoenix, Ariz., area, but he can still flash that smile and play a practical joke if you let him.

To contact OD and Barbara, call 707-253-7778 or email To find out more about ALS, go to Any contributions or donations in honor of Dennis O’Donnell’s fight with ALS can be made to: Queen of the Valley Foundation, P.O. Box 2069, Napa, CA 94558.

Here’s a few of the stories and memories SNEWS® received in honor of OD, starting with our own sales manager, who has known OD for a couple of decades. Sit back, relax, and put up your feet, folks, because the following stories will take some time to read.

SNEWS® is a subscription-only insider news service. We are allowing public access to this article as a benefit to the industry. If you are not already a subscriber and like what you are reading, we encourage you to become a subscriber by clicking here.

Gene Treacy, sales manager, SNEWS®/GearTrends®

Dennis O’Donnell in his own words has been melting. Somewhere around two years ago I got a phone call from OD, a friend I admire tremendously. He said “Gene, I got some good news and bad news, which do you want to hear first?” I said, “Give me the bad news.” OD said “Well, I’m dying.” Knowing OD’s humor and kidding nature, I shrugged it off and went right to, “OK, give me the good news.” He said, “There really isn’t any. I was just testing you to see which news you would ask for first.” I was pretty stunned.

He went on to tell me he had plenty of time and that there was likely a few years before the disease would take him. That was nearly three years ago. I’ve watched him continue his life in the same manner as always. He refused to change anything. He continued working. He continued making friends. He continued his life with his wife, Barbara. He refused to succumb to anything other than his normal routine.

Friendship is rare. 20 years of friendship…. We should all be so lucky to have many of these types of relationships. God has blessed me with many. To me, true friendship can be divided into four important parts: Love — A connection in the heart and very deep caring for a person. Loyalty — I would do anything I can for this person and I will always have their back no matter what. Trust. — I believe totally in this person and they me. Laughter — Fun, humor and good times are essential.

Dennis O’Donnell is my friend. He easily qualifies based on my description, above. I write this with a heavy heart as in the last two years I have lost two friends I have known since early childhood. When I think about OD in terms of his disease and that he’ll be departing us soon, I am very torn up inside.

I consider myself blessed to be a part of his life. That he brought me into his family’s life. OD has taught many, many lessons. I know he touched lives in a very unique, funny but compassionate way. Underneath the outgoing fun-loving exterior was a man who was a father and husband first. He is and continues to be a giver. I have learned a number of life lessons from OD, most of them have made me laugh or feel good. He has a way about making other feel good about themselves even in the face of dying.

I ask God to be very careful with Dennis O’Donnell. Dennis will likely stir the pot in heaven. The angels better be on their toes! I would check his pockets upon arrival for any straws. He’s been know to start a spitball fight or two.

I have a couple memorable stories about OD:
OD had/has an annoying habit of pulling someone’s tucked shirt out from their pants. Back in the hey day of the Super Show most everyone wore suit coats and ties. It was very annoying to have someone pull out your dress shirt which was neatly tucked in and OD usually only did it when you were in someone’s booth visiting. So you’d would have to tuck yourself back in while your customer or prospect, watched, chuckled or guffawed. I swear OD got me 5 times in one day at one particular show.

Kissing me on the lips. If you are one of his friends, likely he has pulled you to him and given you a BIG smack right on the lips! But, his joy comes from the effect of doing it in front of others who may not know him and seeing their reaction. Many times did I have to explain to a customer or associate that this big lug was my friend and it was “just his way of saying hello.”

Many moons ago, Sporting Goods Business magazine’s “Brain Fry” was a party I helped start when I worked there. At that time owner Miller Freeman suggested our magazine could not budget for a party. The sales team members all pitched in their AmEx cards since we knew we had some expense leeway on dinners etc and threw a party at a bar for selected fun customers and industry friends. OD’s daughter, Kristie, was an absolute doll and an absolute chip off the old block. She proceeded to start the first and what seemed like annual spit ball fight with bar straws and napkins. These affairs tended to get pretty out of hand with Kristie and OD as ringleaders and shots of tequila flowing for most. At the time OD did not drink. As the shots of tequila made most everyone’s aim go bad, OD’s only got better. I recall peeling a few spitballs off my forehead and seeing the Cheshire Cat grin on OD’s face. I swear OD still has the original straw…he saved that sucker and brought it with him every year.

I’ve been blessed to know this man. I’ll always remember him telling me as a young man, “Eugene, family always comes first even if it kills ya.” Now, as a father of one teenager and one ore-teen, I know what he meant. But now OD has taught me another very tough lesson: How to handle yourself in the face of adversity. To NOT change who you are. To always be yourself and be true to yourself, your family and your friends. I’m inspired to see how he has handled his illness. First-class always. I’m inspired by this bigger-than-life man who actually is a very simple man. Trust, loyalty, friendship, family first … those will be the cornerstones of who this guy is til he dies. OD is my friend. I love him. I am a better person having known Dennis O’Donnell.

Mike Cochrane, founder, RedZone Fitness

Never a dull moment. When I first started in the business I was probably 29 years old working for Bodyguard Fitness at the time when it was a relative newcomer to the industry. I remember working at building our booths and how the show management never thought that turning on air-conditioning in the hall was important to U.S. builders. So here we are, sweating like pigs trying to build a booth that always looked awesome, ON PAPER! But when it came to assembly, it was always a problem.

As we fiddled with this and fiddled with that there was always a tool that was missing. So here we are sweaty, pissed off and a little smelly… I remember the first time I bumped into OD, I asked if I could borrow a screw driver. That was when he was building that booth with the cool drapes (graphics).

He said, “Sure, whaddya need?” I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. A large man that was sweating profusely himself. “A Robertson screwdriver?” “A Robertson? You must be one of them nutty Canadians from Bodyguard,” he said. “Well, err…yeah.” Off he goes into the tool box, looking like a dog pawing around a box. Sure enough, he had one. I have no idea why he would, but we were able to continue building the booth. That was the first time I met OD, and quite frankly I think I may have never returned the Robertson to him.

Ever since then we have always seen each other at the shows and when I see him I yell, like a hawker at a sporting goods event, “PROGRAM!” In the distance you’d hear a thundering answer, “PROGRAM!” You know OD is in the room. He even purchased a treadmill. 🙂 Always a smiling face and positive outlook and attitude. I know that OD has come to accept his illness early on, but I for one, like many others, have not been able to. When you think of people that you know or you have met in passing that have made a mental impression, you know you have met someone special. He’s one of them. You know, mental … er … mental image.

He was telling me that when he got his last wheelchair he had a party at the house and was going down the ramp and I guess accelerated when he should have decelerated. He flew out of the chair and came crashing down. As his son runs over in a panic, OD turned to him and said, “No problem, just pilot error.”


Dan Budosh, Dick’s Sporting Goods

OD is quite a guy and I have enjoyed working with him. I have been in the business only about three years and he was one of those reps that seemed like an old friend during the first call I took from him.

He wanted a segment of my business pretty bad and always fought hard for it. Once while trying a hard sell on Valeo weight gloves he sent in a complete set of his line with Two Dollar bills in the packaging. He told me his pricing was so good that he might as well be shipping me money with every pair of gloves that he sold me. That is what he is always about … getting the sale and having fun with it. The funny thing was, I gave him 10 new SKUs that year and he still called me out for not giving him the other one that he wanted!

I wish I had more because he is one hell of a guy.

Barbara Biewer, senior buyer/fitness, The Sports Authority
I have been in the retail business for many years and have never met anyone quite like OD. He can make me smile and laugh on any day in just about any circumstance.

Andrew Gaffney, long-time industry insider, former publisher SGB
I was a little taken aback when I got hit with my first spitball and looked over my shoulder to find a giant of a man fumbling to hide the smile on his face and the weapon behind his back. After ducking a few more paper missiles throughout the evening, I was formally introduced to OD.

Wearing a t-shirt and shorts, his informality was almost disarming compared to the rest of the trade show execs I was used to meeting. Minutes into the conversation, he began calling me Gaffney and telling me my magazine should write more about his company. A few more beers into the night, he had me in a playful headlock and I was promising the articles would be forthcoming. Fortunately for me there were many other nights like that with OD at NSGA in Chicago and The Super Shows and I was smart enough to find myself shoulder-to-shoulder with OD for the spitball fights rather than being on the receiving line. The nights out became such a good way to blow off steam that OD helped co-found a traditional night-out partying during the trade show that would officially become known as the Brain Fry.

What I learned over the years was that OD’s light-hearted approach to work could not be taken for a lack of passion. As business worked its way into our conversations, he provided me with key contacts at all of the key retailers and helped me size them up a bit in the process.

Beyond the late nights and business conversations, I also have had the chance to watch OD stare down a lot of the cruel curves life throws. He consistently took them all on with humor, courage and an eternal sense of hope. I was a bit nervous to see him last month when I heard about his battle with ALS, but true to form he had me laughing within the first minute of seeing him. He managed to turn the cart he was riding into hysterical material and quickly turned the conversation to how great his son was doing with his business. With OD there is always a silver lining. I’ve asked him on numerous occasions to pass along some of his spirit and zest for life. If we could find a way to bottle it, that would be the product to really revolutionize sales. Knowing OD he may run with that idea.

John Guilbert, vice president of sales, Impex Fitness

There are certain people in my life that have been role models and that have made a major impact on how I handle myself professionally and while with family and friends. OD is a role model that I listen to, learn from, laugh with and respect with great admiration. OD is a gifted and special person that adds personal touches to a crazy and frenzied lifestyle of a salesperson always on the move.

OD always seems to change a negative into a positive and has a gift of not just being a sale person making a presentation but also a person who quickly becomes a friend. OD accomplishes this task by giving attention to your special interests and quickly becomes acquainted with family members with those he considers as friends. OD and his wife Barbara attended a wedding with a friend named Jim McCarty who worked at Dick’s Sporting Goods at the time. OD took the wedding reception to maximum energy levels and I laugh to this day when we remember what occurred during the reception.

I am in awe watching OD take every breath of life each day when most of us would not have the same outlook or zest that OD shows on a daily basis. OD is a fellow USC Trojan fan and our inspiration slogan is “Fight On!!” I watch OD “Fight On” on a daily basis and am honored to be a friend. OD is my hero and when I grow up, I want to be just like him.

Doug Forde, Forde McGovern Agency
It’s only fitting that OD and I met on a St. Patrick’s Day many years ago, us both being Irish. OD and I became fast friends after he hired our company, Forde McGovern, to rep Harbinger. On a Monday I was talking with him and asked him how his weekend was. He told me he had spent Sunday in his old hometown of Vallejo with his Dad, Charles. This really surprised me as he had never really spoken about his Dad in the past.

In the conversation, he told me how he had gone to church with Charles, had taken Charles to his favorite tavern (an Irish thing), and finally had taken him for a walk on the pier where he dumped him in the water. That’s how he spent the day with his Dad and then distributed his ashes.

When my Dad passed away, OD was there to help write the eulogy. He said:
The deepest and most secret sense of loss of your father is that you are no longer anyone’s little boy. You can no longer say with such a long reach back into history, “Hey, remember when you and I …. While the memories, photos, and places are still there, the connector is no longer available…. It is as if someone has taken the Encyclopedia of your life away from you. One call and you could get all the answers. Where will you find out who played shortstop for the Hollywood Stars in 1954?”

OD and I have attended the wedding of each other’s daughters, have spent many wonderful and funny hours together. He is the only man who I kiss on the lips and tell him I love Him, every time I see or speak to him.

Just like Billy Dee Williams said about Brian Piccolo…

I Love Dennis O’Donnell!

Jenny Pater, Kevin Pater, Pater & Associates
There is truly only one OD. OD and Barbara are a special couple. Always willing to help and always opening their homes and their lives to you. OD and I have been associated with each other for roughly 15 years. Representing Harbinger as we have for over 15 years is where OD touched our world. As a sales manager he was witty, unconventional, creative, determined, tactical and relentless!!

He is always upbeat and he gave you an emotional lift when you needed it and he cared about you and your family. He attacked all the business and family challenges with a can-do positive and enthusiastic attitude. His attention to detail was special. Planning ahead was fun. He arranged dinner in Napa and on the road wine tours. He always greets you by name. His smile and enthusiasm is contagious.

Simply put, he is a valued friend and associate. OD is a treasure, a collectable and yes, one of a kind!

Kelly Van Fossen, Fitness Quest
One thing I will always remember about OD is whenever you ask him how he is doing, he is always “way above average.”

We have become really good friends over the last four years and I want him to know how special he is to me and it really breaks my heart to know what he is going through right now. I know it is not easy for him (my brother-in-law had the same disease and he was taken from us when he was only 38 years old) and through it all he remains so strong. He is truly a hero in my eyes and no one deserves this tribute more than him. I want to thank him for being my friend. His kindness, patience, caring, fun-loving and comedic personality has made it so easy to be his friend and co-worker.