By Frank Rizzo
MONTICELLO As she held her age group first place medal during the Monster Run-a-Thon awards ceremony, Mary Heinle of White Sulphur Springs joked that she had skipped a year.
Because her birthday falls on August 5, she was 75 when the Monster was held on August 1 in 2010 and 77 this year, on August 7.
The retired Liberty and Jeff-Youngsville school districts teacher took up running in her late 60s and keeps up a strenuous schedule of about 10 road races per season.
The transition from competitive racewalking to running was more difficult than she expected.
“I ran about 20 steps and collapsed,” she laughed, adding that each day she increased her endurance.
Early in her running career she entered the Rock Hill Rhulen Run and Ramble as a walker. She took second place in her age group, but was perturbed that there were no trophies for walkers.
“I cherish it now,” she said of the trophy, a running shoe fashioned with wings.
Heinle was also disturbed to lose in her walking division to people who “cheated” and ran part of the way.
So she decided to enter races as a runner.
Her routine is to run three days, then rest on the fourth. Heinle strained her right leg and hip while on vacation in England earlier this spring, and believes the injury hasn’t fully healed as she kept her grueling race pace. Her times, she notes, are noticeably slower this year in each respective race.
But she carries on. The day before the Monster, she ran in the Jeff Jam 5K.
“My kids didn’t want me to do two races in a row, but I said I had to support the kids in Jeffersonville,” Heinle noted.
A widow (husband Bob has been dead 18 years), Heinle has three children: Alan, with the Houston, TX, police department; Kevin, with the NYC Board of Water Supply; and Karen Kehrley, a kindergarten teacher in Sullivan West.
Her two-acre lawn, pool and 25-acre property keep the grandmother of five active.
“If you can get up in the morning, stand and bend over, then get out and walk,” Heinle advises. “Walk a bit longer each time… set a goal.”
Heinle admits that she finds mere walking “a bit boring… but running is stressful on the joints.”
“I’m very fortunate to be active at my age. I like to exercise, I like to observe nature. It relaxes the mind,” said Heinle. “I like to run in the morning it keeps me going for the whole day.”
Heinle was an athletic student at the White Sulphur Springs ES (now shuttered) and Liberty HS, but noted sports opportunities were limited for women then.
As with any competitive runner, Heinle is always fighting obstacles, some having to do with her age, such as the side effects of blood pressure medicine. And there are times when her awards don’t mean as much, since she might be the only runner in her age group.
But she laces up and gets to the starting line anyway.
“I carry my driver’s license just in case,” she jokes. “One day, [a race director] will ask if I’m really my age.”