Glady's one for the ages


POSTED: Friday, December 12, 2008

Ninety-year-old Glady Burrill has lived through extreme poverty, a bout with polio, the Depression, a World War, the death of an adult child from a brain tumor and the death of a young grandchild from cancer. She also learned how to fly airplanes and scale mountains. Oh yes, and she started running marathons at age 86. For Glady, the 26.2-mile journey is an apt metaphor for life.






        When: 5 a.m. Sunday


Entrants: 22,432 through yesterday


Route: Starts on Ala Moana Boulevard, loops through downtown, travels past Kapiolani Park, down Kalanianaole Highway, around Hawaii Kai, back on Kalanianaole Highway, over Diamond Head Road and finishes at Kapiolani Park.



“;When you're going across the starting line, you can make plans, but you don't really know how things are going to turn out,”; she said earlier this week. “;It's kind of an emotional experience.”;

The experience will be more emotional than ever this year. Gene Burrill, Glady's husband of 69 years, died in a nursing home yesterday morning. Gene's slow decline caused much debate and hesitation about whether Glady would come to Honolulu at all. But she said he wanted her to participate in the race. So she intends to finish in an effort to honor his wishes before heading back to her home near Medford, Ore.

  Anyone yearning for a little perspective on life need only talk to the spry senior for a few minutes. But please don't do it while she's power walking the Honolulu Marathon on Sunday. She's trying to break the 8-hour, 53-minute and 8-second world record for her age group—well within her reach after completing the marathon in 8:33 in her late 80s. Glady has been so focused on Gene and her training that she declined invitations from Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres in recent weeks. All of that celebrity will have to wait.

Glady, who first visited Hawaii in 1968, has owned an apartment in Honolulu for approximately 12 years. Witnessing the race one year ignited her passion. “;I'm just going to have to do that!”; she exclaimed at the time.

Fit in her youth from physical labor on a farm, she continues her clean lifestyle, devoid of alcohol and cigarettes and full of simple, healthy foods. Mostly, she prefers to power walk, but on occasion breaks into a jog.

This will be her fifth Honolulu Marathon.

“;I enjoy it and I thrive on challenges,”; she said. “;I went 20 miles the other day, and I just felt great afterward.”; Her 39-year-old grandson, Mike Burrill, Jr., and his wife, Carolyn, will accompany her through the race, as they have in the previous four.

“;It's a privilege, and she inspires a lot of people,”; said Mike, who noted that he has to start training months ahead to keep up with his grandmother, whose pace never wavers throughout the 26 miles. “;She's got this optimism that few people I know have. If she wants to do something, she'll make it happen.”;

Mike also noted that because Glady grew up with so little, “;she's appreciative of everything in her life; the simple things bring her all the joy.”;

  The youngest of six children born to an immigrant family from Finland, Glady lost her coal miner father to consumption—a lung illness that plagued miners at the time—on her second birthday. Aware of his imminent death, he named her Glady because she would be the one to alleviate everyone's sadness.

Her mother, left with six children to feed and a farm to run, never complained.

“;It was a way of life,”; said Glady. “;We didn't feel sorry for ourselves.”;

They lived off what they grew in their garden and sold milk and cream, garnering $5 per month—for seven people. Second-hand shoes meant they wadded up paper to fill the large toe box (yet another reason why she appreciates her Nikes so much). Four sacks were a wardrobe staple—except when someone gave them clothes. Water came from a well, and an outhouse served as the family bathroom.

After marrying at 21, Glady and her husband had three children in quick succession in 1941, 1942, and 1943. Then her husband went off to fight in World War II.

“;I just knew I'd have to do it on my own,”; she recalled.

But he returned, and three more children came along, which led to 18 grandchildren and 22 great grandchildren (with another on the way). Every other year, about 55 people descend on the Burrill house for Christmas.

Family bonds undoubtedly have helped them endure their share of tragic events. Her youngest son, with whom she traveled and backpacked, died of a brain tumor at 30, leaving behind a wife, toddler and unborn child over two decades ago. “;That was such an emotional time for the family,”; she said softly.

They withstood similar turmoil with one of her grandchildren.

Prayer and her faith in God helped her move forward, as it will this weekend in the wake of her husband's death.

“;Life is fragile, and we have to realize that, and make the most of every day, every moment. Nobody knows what tomorrow holds.”;

But by showing up for Sunday's journey, she continues to adhere to her core philosophy: “;If you haven't dared, you haven't lived.”;