Tuesday, April 3, 2012

For the ages

I ran 3 miles this morning. I ran because I was going to have to take a shower anyway. I ran because I was hoping the child who kept me up from 2:30 to 4:30 a.m. would take a nap. I ran because I was supposed to.

So it was with a bit of serendipity that a friend emailed me the obituary of a man in Buffalo. As strange as we might be, we don't go around sharing obituaries from our hometown papers. What she sent me was more than that - it was a story.

It was a story that serves as a reminder about how truly great it is to move your body and be a part of the running community. It was a story of inspiration, life and, of course, death.

Henry Sypniewski was a runner for the ages

By Budd Bailey, News Sports Reporter at Buffalo News

Most runners are at least thinking about wrapping up the athletic portion of their lives at the age of 70. Henry Sypniewski was just getting started.

Sypniewski, who died Sunday night at the age of 93, had an absolutely unique career in his chosen sport. His name is scattered throughout the national record books for his achievements, having set several age-group records while running for more than two decades.

"I don't know how he did it at that age," said his wife, Helen. "Oh, how he loved running. You couldn't stop him, in all weather, no matter how he felt."

Sypniewski, of South Cheektowaga, fought in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and worked as a machinist. He had boxed in his youth, and apparently needed an outlet for his competitive urges in retirement.

Sypniewski helped get recognition to runners of all ages.

"They never had age-group awards [for those] over 50," said Ted Sullivan of Williamsville when Sypniewski turned 90. "He wrote letters to all the race directors as he progressed along, and he brought all the old guys with him."

He was still writing those letters for his final years of running, complaining that it wasn't fair for him to compete against those comparative youngsters in an "80-and-above" age-group.

Sypniewski also was as tough as any runner in a given race. One time in his late 80s during the Shamrock Run, he took a nasty spill on a bridge that forced him to clean up some blood from his clothes after the finish. When asked about it, he simply said, "Aw, I'll get over it."

Sypniewski set American records for the fastest half-marathon by a 90-94 runner (3 hours, 3 minutes and 56 seconds), and at 15-kilometers by an 85-89 runner (57:33).

While health issues kept Sypniewski off the roads for the most part in the last several months, he still had two great performances left in him. At the national Masters 5-kilometer championship in Syracuse in October, Sypniewski covered the distance in 47:38. The old record was 1:01:07, meaning he broke the record for 93-year-olds by more than 13 minutes.

"They pleaded with me to come," Sypniewski said later. "When I got to the finish line, they were all cheering. I was dead tired, and I was sore."

"His 'peers' -- from former Olympians still in their 40's and 50's to gentlemen in their 80's hoping to still be competing in their 90's -- knew better than anyone else how remarkable his achievements were," said Dave Oja, director of the Syracuse Festival of Races.

Then Sypniewski topped himself about a month later, covering the 5K distance in 45:47 at the Bob Ivory Run. It was his last race.

Sypniewski, who died of stomach cancer according to Helen, received plenty of recognition and publicity for his achievements over the years. He always said that he hoped that it would inspire people to stay active.

Funeral arrangements are pending.



  1. Wow. There isn't a lot that can be said, but what an amazing man.

  2. amazing story, it sounds like he really had a full life doing something he loved!

  3. What a wonderful fulfilled life! It's an excellent reminder to live every day in the now.

  4. What an amazing man!

    There went any excuse I had to miss a run.

  5. I don't know what else to say besides "Wow." That man is inspiring.


    I frequently share things you post... this one however is just a joy to read! Thank you for sharing! Kristi

  7. Love this! And if you need more inspiration, see: http://www.yakima-herald.com/stories/2012/03/24/mr-500-82-year-old-prepares-for-milestone-marathon/print

    And read about Bob Dolphin. Amazing man!

  8. What an inspiring person! And proof that it's never too late to get started. I'm a new follower and a big fan of your blog :)

  9. Amazing life! I am glad he got to do what he loved for so long.

  10. Wow, just wow! What an amazing man and I hope I can run as long as he has. He is an inspiration to all runners.

  11. Was contemplating running today. Didn't really feel like it because I have a boat load of work to do. Until I read this. RIP Mr. Sypniewski.