SMALL TOWNS: Fox Valley ladies stay young thanks to track workouts

You're never too old to be young again
Updated: Sep. 1, 2022 at 6:10 PM CDT
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FREEDOM, Wis. (WBAY) - Four ladies in the Fox Valley continue to prove you’re never too old to stay active and vibrant.

The key, they say, starts with the man who serves as their track coach.

This week in Small Towns, we travel to Freedom to meet up with the ageless runners, and the man who inspires them.

“One 50, walk a 50, one 50, walk a 50,” instructs Thain Jones to his lady runners on the track at Freedom High School.

Thain has coached high school track for the past 46 years, leading one of the top programs in the state at Freedom.

And on the side, once a week for the past 35 years, he’s guided these four runners into their golden years.

“When I decided to start running and I went to him, I told him what my goals were and he got me there pretty quickly,” says Roddie Larsen from Menasha, who’s 85.

“I didn’t even know what a 400 was when he said do a 400 or whatever, and then he had different people, he’d make them your rabbit and to kind of incentivize you and he just made it fun,” adds Margaret Mason, 87, from Appleton.

After being diagnosed with breast cancer at 51, Margaret quit her job as a reporter for the Washington Post and moved to Appleton.

She’s been running ever since.

“He made running an adventure and sure we tried to get faster but that’s not our main goal,” says Margaret.

“You want to add variety because it keeps it interesting, might be Heesakker Park in Little Chute, it might be Sunset Park in Kimberly, it might be Plamann Park, any place where there’s a nice trail or a hill, some place we can use, it’s nice now because of GPS watches, you can measure just about any distance,” explains Thain.

Whether it’s in a park, or on the track, each week’s workout is tailored specifically for these ladies.

“If you want to get better at being a distance runner you have to do certain things regardless of age that you need to do, it’s just that it’s a lot more difficult to do it, the volume isn’t as great, the intensity isn’t as great, but the principles are still the same,” says Thain.

“He has one line he always says, it’s all relative, and so was we go on in our lives, in our years, it’s always got to be relative what we can do. He treats us all like we are champions, he’s an incredible person, an incredible coach,” says Margaret.

During their workout, there’s always friendly competition and support.

But thanks to a little wear and tear over the years, the pecking order constantly changes.

“I used to compete with Margaret a lot but I had a hip replaced recently so she’s beating me all over,” says Roddie with a chuckle.

“It’s Thain that hold us together, just he’s very committed to us so we’re committed to him,” says Joyce Fisher from Appleton, the baby in the group at 72.

They’re committed more than ever.

“They said why can’t we just keep going all winter long and I think in the last two years we’ve missed one or two days because of severe weather,” says Thain.

Now in their 70s and 80s, these ladies didn’t have the chance to compete in high school sports like girls do today.

They’re certainly making up for lost time.

“I was out every day, loved to walk and run when I was a kid every day, and they didn’t have it, so then this was kind of like nice,” says Donna Schricker, 78, from Appleton.

As he’s watched them run over the years, and over the decades, Thain has developed a deep respect for his runners’ work ethic.

“The statement that always makes me laugh is, I’m burnt out, and sometimes I think, well some of you were never ignited in the first place,” says Thain with a smile before adding, “When you go to the doctor for your annual physical and they say, boy for somebody your age you’re in great shape, which is probably one redeeming factor, one of them, that definitely makes it all worthwhile.”

And for these senior runners and their coach, there are no plans of slowing down anytime soon.

“Until we fall over I guess, we kid him he’s got a second career coaching geriatrics,” says Roddie.

“People ask me all the time when are you going to retire, I don’t have any idea, like the old cowboys go with their boots on, I’ll probably go with the stopwatch or the whistle, the whatever, hey he didn’t fall asleep he’s no longer with us, if you love something why do you want to stop doing it,” says Thain.

The world record for a woman 90 years old in the mile is currently 12:52.

Margaret needs to shave about 10 seconds off her time over the next few years to reach that.

There’s no doubt Thain and her fellow runners will be pushing her.

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These track stars in Freedom show you're never too old to stay active