George Etzweiler turns 100 years old on Saturday and for just about everybody younger than that age on God’s green earth, it’s safe to say we would sign up for that number in a heartbeat.
But how many of us would dare at 100 to even dream of eating birthday cake just hours after a daily training run in preparation for the upcoming Mount Washington (N.H.) Road Race?
Our guess is not a lot.
In fact, when Etzweiler toes the starting line on June 20, he will be looking to break the event record for oldest participant.
The current recordholder?
He completed the 7.6-mile ascent of 4,650-foot Mt. Washington back in 2018 in a record (for his age group) time of 4:04, one minute faster than he did it the previous year – at 98, continuing his “oldest man’’ streak that he’s held for a number of years.
After that performance, George vowed he would finish the race when he turned 100.
He had to take off from last year’s race when he was sidelined by a stomach virus, which relatives suspected he may have contracted from one of his great-grandchildren.
This year, no one’s taking any chances. Visits will end in May.
In the interim since 2018, George has survived several health threats and, remarkably, came out in one piece.
While on a training run near his State College home just before Thanksgiving, 2018, he hit a patch of ice on a bridge, fell hard, and was taken to a hospital, where doctors used 14 surgical screws and a steel plate to get his shoulder back in place.
Three days later he was running again!
Then, on Feb. 7, 2019, a driver attempted a left turn in front of George’s Honda. The cars collided, the airbag went off in George’s car and hit him, where else? Right in the shoulder.
But he got over that incident, too, and now he’s been training again, although according to his son, Larry, the weather hasn’t been too good for long runs.
“The weather has not cooperated; he has been unable to do the long training runs that he wanted to do December and January,’’ said Larry, a long-time member of the Mercer-Bucks Running Club.
“Without the times from the training runs, he doesn’t have a good grip on his likely finishing time. On the upside, the shoulder surgery diminished his shoulder pain, so, unlike last year, pain should not be so much of an impediment.’’
Larry and several relatives might get permission to accompany George on this latest quest, just to make sure he’s doing OK.
“The race officials are being very kind and cooperative,’’ Larry said. “They have plans to keep everyone posted on his progress and to pick him up if he needs to be picked up.’’
While the race is held in June, it’s usually a given there will be winds in excess of 40 miles per hour at the top, making for a rather gusty, chilly finish.
A bit of trivia: For 62 years, Mt. Washington held the world record for fastest wind speed – 231 miles per hour. That was recorded on April 12, 1934 at the Mt. Washington Observatory. That stood until 1996 when a recording of 253 miles per hour was noted at Point Barrow, Australia during Typhoon Olivia.
When George finished the race in 2018, there were cries of “You’re an inspiration, George!’’ from awestruck bystanders at the end line.
“Dad has become a very popular participant,’’ Larry explained back then. “People keep wishing him luck and hoping he can accomplish this goal.
“At the awards ceremony, the crowds went wild cheering for Dad when he went up to accept his award. Seemingly everyone wanted to take Dad’s picture — young and old women, young and old men, non-runners and runners wanted to have their pictures taken with Dad.’’
He’s become the star of the show and he’s hoping to get up to the top at least one more time.
Based on that 2018 reception, there should be a real buzz if George makes it up there on this special occasion.
“About half of the conversations I overheard both before, during, and after the race were about Dad,’’ Larry said back in 2018. “Based on what I saw and heard at the race, I think Dad could run a successful campaign for governor of New Hampshire.’’
George has been doing this race since 1989 and completed it 13 times.
At the 2018 awards ceremony, George received two medals (over-90 age group, plus age-graded time). When his name was called, George asked the announcer to repeat what he had just said.
“My hearing isn’t keeping up with my running,’’ he cracked to the delight of the crowd.
Here’s hoping George gets to the top. High up there, it would be an achievement for all the world to see.
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