FORT WAYNE – On a gorgeous September day last week, Sarah Cowin showed up sporting blue sneakers decorated with tropical fish and sparkly silver laces. And she wore a smile that could have defrosted a walk-in freezer.
My health is very good, for my age I think it is, she told a visitor. But theres always (someone) a little older.
To which the appropriate response would be: Not likely.
Sarah Cowin, you see, lives in Georgetowne Place Retirement Center on Maplecrest Road. Shes 94 years old. And this Friday, as part of Fort4Fitness, she and her 68-year-old daughter, Happy Walts, will be finishing the last 1.2 miles of the Seniors Marathon, an incremental walking program in which participants are given a training shirt and mileage log.
Already this year, Cowin, the oldest female participant in the Seniors Marathon, has logged around 75 miles. Her daughter knows this because Cowin calls almost every day to report that shes tacked on another mile or half-mile.
Personally I think she walks so she has a reason to call me and say, OK, mark me down, Walts says, laughing.
And then: Shes on track to do 80 (miles). Ive only done 50, so shes way ahead of me.
Shes way ahead of most people her age, and not just because this is the second straight year she and Walts are participating in the Senior Marathon. A relentlessly cheerful person who looks not a day over 80, she started walking after her husband passed shortly after they moved to Georgetowne Place, and both she and her daughter signed up for the Senior Marathon program because the other did.
I didnt know what I was doing, says Cowin, a native of Shelbyville.
I was already a walker, but I didnt put that much emphasis on it. Im getting older so I wasnt able to do all the things I could do when I was younger, but I could always walk. And I met people that way.
And her big finish at Parkview Field last year?
I was exhausted, she says. But Im much stronger now because every day I walk, so Im in better shape.
And its gone beyond just physical fitness. It seems Cowin – by her own admission, an unreconstructed tomboy from way back – has been almost as energetic a recruiter for Fort4Fitness as she is a walker.
She got other people at this community involved in this, says Sherri Berghoff, the Fort4Fitness Senior Challenge chairperson. She was kind of the poster child at Georgetowne, saying Come on, you can do this, were already walking. Now I think theres nine other communities like Georgetowne involved.
Together, it adds up to 1,760 men and women 55 and older who are part of the program. Many of them, like Cowin, were already walking on their own.
It was just a matter of giving them recognition for what they were already doing, Berghoff says.
It also adds substantially to a program that continues to explode.
Five events, stretched over two days, now comprise Fort4Fitness big weekend – Seniors Marathon, Kids Marathon, 4-Mile Run/Walk, 10K and Half Marathon. Theres also a cycling event in the spring – and this year, for the first time, Fort4Fitness has instituted a charity partner program that enables participants to use Fort4Fitness as their official charity run.
Race director Dave Craker says 1,176 people are running as part of that program.
Our charities are finding they can spend their time raising money while we handle the logistics of the event, says Craker, adding that he expects the entire weekend to draw in the neighborhood of 10,000 participants.
Giving back to the community this way really has gotten me excited.
Getting couch potatoes off the couches and getting them out and training for these events has always been our mission. Now if we can do this for a good cause, even better.