On the Road Again
Senior citizens are reigniting their passion for running races thanks to Coastal Race Productions and the Comeback Kids.
“Wait a minute, Goomba is 72 years old,” laughs little Itchy Jones. “How far is a 5K, a hundred yards?”
“It’s 3.1 miles,” PopPop tells Itchy. “Do you think you can run that far?”
“I’m ready to leave right now. I gotta see Goomba in gym shorts,” beams little Itchy.
This isn’t a fictional story. Senior citizens all over the southern Brunswick beaches, who used to love running but had to give it up – are back. They are back, bigtime. And their club is named The Comeback Kids. They’re in their 50s, 60s and 70s, and there are 14 of them, with an average age of 64, and they’re running again like they used to do when they really were kids.
Coastal Race Productions (CRP) and their resident running coach are the culprits bringing together these old folk, who quit or slowed way down for the obvious reasons.
The knees gave out. Or the hips. Somebody told them they were way past the age a respectable senior would be running for exercise or competition, right? And some of them got sick with COVID or became bored with all those running miles. For one reason or another, they had had enough. But now they are back.
CRP stages most of the competitive 5Ks, 10Ks, half and full marathons in Brunswick County, and one day, one of their 70+-year-old race participants came to them with an idea.
The man had taken a year and lost 40 pounds, mostly by walking and deep-water running in a swimming pool. He completed the 125th virtual Boston Marathon in 2021, after more than six hours pounding the aqua in an Ocean Isle residential pool – in October! He is a certified and accredited scholastic, organizational and personal training running coach, and he learned something important over that year. Older people can get back into shape, and they can overcome injuries and illness, and they can become like kids again, when it comes to running and racing. Would CRP be interested in sponsoring a team of CRP Race Director Johnna Terragna was all in at the first hearing. She’s in her 50s, and she, too, wanted to come back. After some weeks of advertising, the team of Comeback Kids came together, with members hailing from Ocean Isle Beach, Little River, Calabash, Southport, Bolivia, Supply, Sunset Beach and Holden Beach. Their Saturday group runs alternated between Ocean Isle Beach, Sunset Beach and Holden Beach.
Everybody paid a nominal fee to cover the expenses of a team training shirt, a weekly training plan specifically tailored to their age, fitness level and running goals, and entry into the October 1 Holden Beach 5K Race.
They’ve been training together since June, and a couple of them have already entered 5K races and won top-three medals in their age groups. Two of them are in their 50s, nine are in their 60s, and three are in their 70s. Johnna (nicknamed JoJo), came back, and she is one of the youngest kids, at age 56. COVID was the primary de-motivator for her, with footraces across the nation being canceled.
“My motivation and drive waned during the pandemic, and I’m building back slowly to avoid injury,” she says. She also echoes what several other seniors say: “I think it is hard at times to push yourself out the door at any age. The reward comes after you do the hard thing. Not before.”
Wendy Li grew up in China and was mainly a sprinter. She competed at the state-level in high school. She moved to the United States in 1983 to work on her Ph.D. in chemical engineering. She started long-distance running around age 40 and is 61 now. As a small-business owner of Coastal Wine & Brew in Ocean Isle Beach, she works long, hard hours to keep her business going and growing. And she is on her feet all the time running a wine bar. The business is the main reason her running suffered neglect. But the torrid summers and windy winters also wore her down. The idea of The Comeback Kids awakened her desire to come back.
“I want to get back to complete at least one half-marathon, and a couple of 5Ks/10Ks per year,” Wendy says. “I also want to be able to complete those races in decent paces.”
Randy Bookout is one of the three septuagenarians. He also has had a stellar running history. Randy ran the JFK 50-miler in Maryland, the Boston Marathon, the Iceman Classic in Fairbanks, Alaska, and came in second in his age group of 60 to 64 in the Iron Man Beach to Battleship Triathlon in Wilmington. He was an Army Ranger and is very realistic about being a Comeback Kid. He has no dreams of getting back into that kind of shape again. “No, I just want to continue to be able to run to the best of my ability for my physical and mental health,” he says.
These three Comeback Kids have been running a total of 113 years, and they are planning to add a few more to the tally.
Some of them just want to finish the 5K. Some want to win their age group. But being mature seniors, they won’t be crestfallen if they don’t bring home the gold. They could potentially run as fast or faster than they ever have in the past, and there may be somebody out there who is just faster. It happens! It especially happens when so many out of towners and out of staters show up for South Brunswick races. We are an attractive tourist location, after all.
The Comeback Kids are already noticing physical and mental changes, which are a very good thing. Wendy has a sense of “can do.” She said it just feels good to have new goals and the drive to get back to being a good runner again (like the good old days). JoJo said it’s “FUN” in capital letters, being a part of a team again. Randy says, “I love for someone to refer to me as a ‘kid’ again.” And as far as having access to an experienced coach, he says, “It’s a person I don’t want to let down.
“After our Saturday morning runs, I’m happy with myself that I did it,” Randy adds. And is the program working? For Randy, Wendy and JoJo, it’s “Yes, Yes, Yes.”
Want to get back into running?
Anyone wishing to join the Comeback Kids for the 2023 summer season can call (252) 256-1084.