Harriette Thompson just set a world record for the fastest marathon ever by a woman 90 years or older. She’s 91, and made her mark at the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon. She also became the second oldest marathon finisher in U.S. history. She logged those 26.2 miles in 7 hours, 7 minutes and 42 seconds, most of it in the baking sun.
It’s not as if Harriette is free of health issues. She had cancer of the palate and significant surgery to remove part of her jawbone and most of her upper teeth. Subsequently, she has been battling skin cancer. She had undergone 9 radiation treatments in 11 days, ending those just about four weeks before the marathon. She covered the wounds from those treatments with white tights and bandages.
Harriette runs for a cause, with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), raising money for research to overcome blood diseases and other cancers. She’s raised over $90,000 for them since she began running marathons at the tender age of 76. Her recent record setter was her 15th marathon.
When interviewed, she said she felt “wonderful”, and “I feel relieved. But I’m interested in getting into a cold shower and falling into bed for a while.”
As for support, she said her 55 year old son, Brennneman, ran beside her and helped all the way. “Anytime I needed anything, he was there for me”, said Harriette. Her son provided water, vaseline, and nourishment during the day-long ordeal.
It’s hard to imagine anyone doing this at her age, much less fighting cancer at the same time.
In this blog, I often advocate for exercise to fend off the debilitating changes of aging. I also suggest that we urge our aging parents to take up some form of exercise, even if it’s sitting in a chair, on your own or with a group doing light weights and stretches. Our aging loved ones may need encouragement or inspiration. Not everyone has the courage and self-discipline of Harriette Thompson, but anyone can improve what we do physically. Note especially that she gave credit to her son for running along beside her the entire way and essentially taking care of whatever she needed with help to go the distance. That is a metaphor for what adult children can do to enhance the best potential of their aging loved ones: be there and help in whatever way you can. I’d bet they have a great relationship.
Harriette embodies everything I love to see in any older person: a strong will, giving back, daring to push her limits, keeping on even when it hurts and dedicating herself to working for a good cause. And her son embodies a great deal of what we can all admire about being helpful to an aging parent in literally staying with her and offering comfort to the finish.
– Written by : Carolyn Rosenblatt
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