Talking to Edna Hyer is like getting a history lesson in how women’s running has grown over the years. After all, she’s been doing it for close to half of her life. And she’s 80.
“Back when my daughter and Jennifer Colgrove were running in high school, they were trying to start a girls cross-country program,” Hyer said. “They were told they couldn’t because they didn’t have officials. Jennifer’s mother and myself said we’d run on the same course and take their times. This was more than 30 years ago.”
Hyer just wanted to lose a little weight at the time as well as help her daughter. That sparked a lifelong love affair with the sport.
“It did help, but I gained some of the weight back,” she said with a laugh. “As I used to tell people, I hated running, but I found I felt much better when I did it. So I kept it up.”
That’s the understatement of the year. Naturally, if someone had told her 30 years ago that she’d still be running at age 80 …
“… I would have said you were nuts,” Hyer said in completing the sentence ahead of time.
The South Wales resident has watched the number of women road racers grow dramatically over the decades.
It’s a bit unusual for women who are well into senior citizen status now to be running, mostly because they didn’t have the opportunities to be introduced to the sport when they were younger.
Hyer has kept at it, in part because there’s been a number of senior local male runners who paved the way.
“I give Henry Sypniewski a lot of credit for getting age-group awards for the older people,” she said about the late runner. “He used to send letters to the race directors saying there were people running who were over 60. I did one race where the top age-group was 40-and-older. We’ve come a long way from that. We don’t always have something for those in their 80s, but at least we get up to the 70-and-over now.”
Hyer keeps lining up at the starting line, race after race. She did 59 events last year.
“When I first started, I figured I was never going to be good, so I picked a goal to keep myself out there,” she said. “I read Dr. George Sheehan’s book, and he said a nice goal might be 1,000 races. I said OK, I’ll do that, never stopping to think about what that meant.
“Well, I passed that several years ago. I said, now what do I do? I guess you go for 2,000.”
Hyer was at 1,818 entering 2014, so she figures she’s about three years away from hitting 2,000. And talk about tough – who has been tougher?
“I’ve had open heart surgery, a tumor and two bypasses. I had breast cancer two years ago. I’m still taking medicine for that,” she said. “As far as running injuries go, I’ve only had one very bad one. I was on crutches for six weeks because of a groin muscle. It still hurt when I got tired eight years later.”
You might think that Hyer’s crowning moment came in April, when she won a national championship in her age group at the USA Track & Field National Championship over 10 kilometers – on her birthday, no less. It doesn’t take much coaxing for her to say how many competitors were in the 80-84 grouping: one.
“I was it,” Hyer said. “There was one man who was 80. It was an interesting race. We started three minutes before the main race. I got down the street a ways, and these two Africans went speeding by.
“Running in the nationals, you have to wear your age group on your back. As people passed me they said, ‘You’re doing good.’ It was kind of inspiring.”
Hyer has been inspiring runners just by racing week after week. That’s quite a reward for all of that running.
“I’ve outlived all my competition. Most of them aren’t running,” Hyer said. “It’s nice to be able to say you still do it.”
• Run in the Mist 5K, 3rd St. at Old Falls Street in Niagara Falls, 7 p.m. Wednesday, 282-7181.
• Buffalo Broadcasters Celebrity 5K Run, 1 Marine Drive in Buffalo,
7 p.m. Wednesday, 574-2741.
• West Seneca Community 5K, 1250 Union Road in West Seneca,
6:30 p.m. Thursday, 863-5059.
• Road 2 Recovery Mental Health 5K Race, Nottingham & Amherst in Buffalo, 6:30 p.m. Friday, 883-3331.
• 50-Yard Finish, Half Marathon & 5K, Ralph Wilson Stadium, 7 a.m. Saturday, 830-6703.
• Bemus Point 10K, Long Point State Park Bath House, 9 a.m. on June 29, 488-0788.