The 2013 edition of the John Dick Memorial 50K run was memorable for many reasons, including a record turnout on a snow-covered course in single-digit weather.
But the most memorable part of this year’s race was No. 148, Paul Gionfriddo, out on the course in his very own snowshoe division.
Being in the woods on a cold, windy day wasn’t out of character for Paul. He’d been on the trails in much worse conditions; but not on his 90th birthday.
Old enough to be the great-grandfather of several of the runners who shared the course with him, Paul was out there with them all.
He didn’t do the full 50 kilometers, but he wasn’t alone. Many of the runners at the start line decided to call it a day after one, two or three loops. Paul has done the full 50 kilometers before. He had nothing to prove.
Really, at 90, what does one have left to prove?
Paul is now simply a wonderful example for the rest of us, an example of how life is best lived when you embrace it. Paul doesn’t pretend that age hasn’t given him a few limitations. But a limitation is just that – there may be limits on a person’s possibilities at 80, 90 or a 100 years old but there are still possibilities. Everyone has possibilities.
Paul reminds us not to turn our backs on them.
A retired electrical engineer for GE Medical, Paul didn’t start running until he was 60 and only then because his employer was sponsoring a run. Different units within the company were competing with each other and each needed a runner over 50. Paul was recruited for his unit and after that first race just kept going.
He soon progressed from short distances to marathons and from marathons to ultras. Several years ago, he became a member of the 50 States Marathon Club, a group of about 1,600 runners who have run a marathon in each of the 50 states. Looking for a new challenge, Paul decided that he might as well keep going and try to complete 100 marathons. He met that goal at Milwaukee’s Lakefront Marathon.
Note, Paul doesn’t count his 50-kilometer races when he adds up his marathon finishes. He has many of these in his race resume as well.
But running isn’t what defines Paul’s life. He is a grandfather, father and a husband; a husband who recently celebrated his 65th wedding anniversary with his wife, Margaret.
Just like Punxsutawney Phil, Paul saw his shadow on Groundhog Day, his birthday. Perhaps it really is a sign of an early spring.
Regardless, Paul traipsing through the woods on a cold winter day is a sign of what spring is all about: possibilities and hope.
Happy birthday Paul!
Mary Gorski has completed the Badwater Ultra Marathon, Ironman triathlons, the American Birkebeiner and dozens of endurance events. She’s also an integral part of the dedicated and encouraging running community in the Milwaukee area.