She was the only woman over 80 in the marathon of 14,000 runners.
At 84, Nanette Rodgers of Winter Haven is still taking on challenges that folks many years her junior wouldn‘t consider.
According to a 2012 study in Runners World magazine, less than one half of 1% of the population ever run a marathon. But that’s exactly what Rodgers did on Jan. 12 at the Walt Disney World Marathon.
"I run the hills," she said. "About three months ago, after one of the hill runs, Linda Hornickle and Julie Kermond told me I could do a marathon. I told them I’d been thinking about it, so they told me they’d help me train for it."
She said she started training longer distances with Kermond and used a chart from the Galloway group. Jeff Galloway is a runner who put together training guidelines for would-be marathoners.
"When we got to 24 miles, we divided it into 8-mile segments," Rodgers said. "Julie ran with me the whole time. I did 24 miles and really didn’t feel too bad about it."
The last week, before the marathon, Rodgers didn’t run much. But she kept up her gym routine. Nonetheless, race day presented unexpected challenges.
"I got up at 12:30 a.m. and Julie came to my home," she said. "We got to Disney and parked about 2:30. When I went to get her number bib, they didn’t have it. They said I had to go to administration. That was around 4:30.
Late Florida veteran awarded Congressional Gold Medal replica
Almost 100, Florida vet recalls events that earned him the Bronze Star
"Betsy Hughes from Track Shack came up to me and said, ‘The people here can’t believe that an 84-year-old person was signing up to run a marathon. They wanted to see me and talk to me."
She got her number and headed to the start line. They waited about 45 minutes wrapped in a blanket. "It was really cold, but then we got started," Rodgers said.
Rodgers said they were on time and doing fine for more than half the race. Then things went bad.
"Around 15 miles, all of a sudden, Julie fell and pulled me down with her. A guy had stepped on the back of her heel as he was weaving in and out," she said.
Rodgers scraped her right elbow and broke a finger on her right hand. She lost 20 minutes in the medical tent getting wrapped up.
"When we got to 20 miles, I told Julie I was feeling a little dizzy," Rodgers said. "So she poured water down my back.
"I had a couple moments like that, but I never hit ‘The Wall’ (the point in a marathon when all your glycogen is used up). At 24 miles, I started getting cramps in my legs. They were pretty bad.
"This policeman came up to me and said he had to take me off the course. I told him he couldn’t, I had to finish the race.
"Another girl and her mother came up and walked with me until I walked the cramps out.
"I was just so happy that we got to the finish line."
Rodgers finished the ordeal in 7 hours 6 minutes 41 seconds.
"They put me in a wheelchair and took me over to triage," she said. "They were so nice. They took my blood pressure and gave me Gatorade. My bp was 106 over 60.
"Then they took me in a golf cart over to my car."
Rodgers found out she was the only woman over 80 in the marathon of 14,000 runners. And she received an award for first in her age group.
"Our goal was to finish in 6 hours, 42 minutes," she said. "Without the fall, we would have made it."
Bouncing back like an elite runner, Rodgers did the Mean and Green 5 Mile at Holloway Park on Jan. 19 and the Celebration Half Marathon a week later.
This story originally published to theledger.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.