Warwick Twp.’s Lorraine Jasper: From cancer survivor to national track champion

Lorraine Jasper set a new American record for women 55-59 in the 400 meters (1:06.79)

I shall be telling this with a sigh,
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
’’

Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken

Lorraine Jasper never took the road expected of her either.
Not when Hall of Fame track coach Jumbo Elliott came calling with a track scholarship offer to Villanova University in the ‘70s.
And certainly not when doctors once told her the cancer in her body would only allow her to live two more years, and only then if she underwent chemotherapy.
No, Jasper said, to both. First to Elliott to pursue other interests (starting a family) and then to the doctors, perhaps because she believed she could beat the odds by her own methods.
Now, decades later, Jasper certainly isn’t having second thoughts, as the poet Frost once did.
She overcame the deadly disease, she believes, with a one-two punch of running and diet.
And, in doing so, she has become the fastest 55-59 age-group quarter-miler in the United States, recently setting an American indoor record.
In January, USATF (United States Track and Field) named her winner of the prestigious 2017 Masters Grand Prix Award, with her photograph and accomplishments published in National Masters News magazine.
Jasper’s story is an inspirational one – a tale of overcoming adversity and perhaps proving that both the mental and physical sides of running can help achieve great things. . .even survival and an extension of life.
“Because I did not do it the conventional way (in 1996), I used my running as my medicine,’’ she says in a recent telephone conversation.
“As the years went by and I was still living after they told me I was going to be dead in two years. . .I just looked at going to national races, just get me to the next national race.
“My medicine was my running.’’
Her determination not only to survive, but excel, never wavered.
“My success of surviving and then it was running to the point where ‘if I’m going to run, I’m just going to do the best I can do,” she says. “So if I’m not going to take death (as an option), then I’m not going to accept being less than I can possibly be.’’
Jasper competes for the Pennsylvania-based Athena Track Club, which features such outstanding runners as Julie Pangburn, Marisa Sutera-Strange, Margaret Sloan, Cheryl Bellaire, Terri Cassel, Doreen McCoubrie (one of the top distance runners in the Philadelphia area), Betsy Stewart and Mary Swan.
These women have the utmost respect for what Jasper has accomplished, both off the track and on, including the setting of a new U.S. indoor standard in the 400 meters of 66.79 seconds.
Remarkable in its own right, but consider this: She’s raised four children (Peter, Michael, Krista, Nick), serves as an assistant coach for high school track and cross country, plus puts in a shift at the Chester County Running Store.
Oh, did we mention she’s also a yoga instructor?
Well, somehow she’s going to find time to train for and compete in the World Masters Championships, coming up this November in Malaga, Spain.
Don’t bet against her hitting the podium.
“Obviously I definitely want to medal,’’ she says. “I would like to break some records in the 800 (she’s hoping to clock in somewhere in the 2:20s).’’
Her times have greatly improved in recent years. Some of it is the quality of her workouts, some of it is just using the wisdom of her years.
“Since my 50s I’ve just gotten smarter,’’ she says. “I am primarily an 800-meter specialist. I train most of the year for that. I’ve done the roads and I’m fairly good at that but I don’t train specifically for roads.
“It’s more body awareness. I used to be too much in my head instead of listening to my body.’’
Back in the day, she was an all-Philadelphia Catholic League runner, primarily the 400 on the track and also cross country.
That’s when Elliott came calling.
“Interestingly enough,’’ she says with a laugh, “I did not take it ( the scholarship offer).
“I had met my husband (Pete) and we wanted to have a family early. I was training on the roads, getting into it more competitively and running for stores who wanted me to run for their teams. It kind of snowballed from there.’’
She got into masters track in her 40s and that’s when things began to intensify.
“It helps to have like-minded people doing the same thing,’’ she says. “Track is a different animal. I have tried to recruit people to track from the roads. They don’t like it.’’
Maybe because it’s such a difficult challenge.
But Jasper has never backed down from one of those. It’s the road she chose and the one she continues to travel – quite well.

Race calendar

Saturday
Newtown Shamrock Shuffle 5K, 9 a.m., Newtown. Contact www.newtownshamrockshuffle.com
Sunday, May 20
20th annual Kiwanis-Sesame Place Classic 5K, 7 a.m., Middletown Township. Contact www.sesameplaceclassic.com

Wayne Fish
About Wayne Fish 300 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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