Peggy Wilson's advice: Just do it

Adrianne DeWeese

In her 60s, Peggy Wilson’s main hobbies include gardening, quilting and reading – you know, quiet and relatively sedentary activities.

Then, in the summer of 2011, she discovered running.

One year and five months after running her first 5K, the 66-year-old Independence woman has participated in 19 races in four states, including the 5K (3.1 miles), the 10K (6.2 miles) and the half marathon (13.1 miles).

Peggy has placed first for her age division in 15 of those races, including a top finish in the female 65-to-69-year-olds category last Sunday at the Biggest Loser Run/Walk half marathon in Panama City Beach, Fla.

Prior to June 2011, Peggy had walked regularly on and off in her lifetime but never with any seriousness. But she had gained some weight and needed to get moving to take off the pounds.

One of Peggy’s three sons, Mark Wilson of Waynesville, Mo., heard of his mother’s new activity, and encouraged her to gradually take up running. Mark teaches middle school physical education, in addition to coaching football, track and wrestling. He and his wife, Angie, also run in distance races.

So, Peggy Wilson followed Mark’s plan of walking for 45 seconds and running for 15 seconds for one mile, gradually increasing her mileage.

“The math got hard. I’m not a mathematician,” Peggy said. “When the math got hard, I said, ‘Oh Lord, help me.’ I just started running.”

Mark asked Peggy to participate in the Royals Charities 5K Run/Walk that August. She agreed, but the week prior to the race, Peggy was very ill and thoughts of sitting the race out filled her mind.

But, she added, she didn’t want to disappoint Mark.

“I thought, ‘The worst thing that could happen is that I’d have to crawl to the finish line,’” Peggy said. “If I just finish, Mark would be pleased with me.”

Once the race started, she enjoyed the physical challenge, especially with a pack of runners both in front of and behind her.

“I thought, ‘I might be able to pull this off,’” Peggy said.

She finished with a time of 34 minutes, 44 seconds.

Says Mark: “She took third in her age group, won a medal and was hooked.”

When she started running regularly, some of the other senior residents in Peggy’s neighborhood told her to stop the exercise and that she would hurt herself.

“But I kept going,” Peggy said, smiling.

But why running – and why later in life?

“It’s a very social thing,” Peggy said. “People are so gracious and friendly. There’s no stress, and it’s not about winning. It’s just about being there and doing it.

“I found out something about myself that I didn’t even know: I’m competitive. I didn’t even know that about myself.”

As long as the streets are cleared and the temperatures are least 40 degrees, Peggy, a lifelong homemaker, runs a regular route. As she celebrates her 67th birthday on Jan. 15, Peggy has set her sights on several goals: To run a race in all 50 states while continuing to run at least one race a month.

“Over the last 18 months, (my mom) has gone from not being able to run to running a half marathon,” Mark said. “My entire family is very proud of her and think her story is incredibly inspirational, not just for senior citizens necessarily, but for people of all ages. It’s a success story of goal-setting, hard work and determination that almost anyone can relate to.”

As a result of her dedicated running, Peggy has lost at least 35 pounds and has gone from knowing nothing about the sport to having books about it on her bedside tables. Her advice for inspiring others to do the same is simple: Find an activity that you enjoy, just do it, and be safe about it.

“It’s so funny – I can’t walk now,” Peggy said. “If I had to get out on the street now and try to walk, I’d end up running.”