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Lifestyle // Island Matters
Mufi Hannemann

The ‘Gladyator’ Of Power Walking

Glady Burrill, 94, still holds the record she set in 2010 of being the oldest woman to ever complete a marathon | Photo from Pat Bigold

Gladys Burrill was born running on a hilly farm near Mount St. Helens in Washington. Soon as she could take her first steps, Gladys was jogging up and down the hills and climbing mountains. She entered this world during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which is estimated to have infected up to 1 billion people – half the world’s population at the time. Ironically, this grandmother, who power-walked her way into the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest woman to successfully complete a marathon at age 92, is so healthy that the last time she recalls being stricken with the flu was 25 years ago.

“I don’t believe in flu vaccines.

In fact, I have a strong immune system. I do a lot of hugging with other marathoners who are just getting over the flu. The last time I caught a cold was 10 years ago,” exclaims Gladys, who earned the nickname “The Gladyator” for her vivacious energetic burst toward every finish line. Her sword or weapon is a compelling fight to live as long as she can.

She is the youngest of six children, whose parents immigrated to America from Finland. She recalls walking four miles as a child to pick her favorite fruit, strawberries, and walking more than a mile to grade school every day in any kind of weather.

They were so poor that she used charcoal to brush her teeth because toothpaste was too costly. Gladys was so devoted to taking care of her teeth that she caught a ride with the milkman at age 16 to visit her dentist after suffering a severe toothache. She had a choice: getting fillings for her upper molar for $4 or having it extracted for $2. She chose the latter and, 76 years later, Gladys would be flashing her pearly whites as she crossed the finish line in the Honolulu Marathon for the fifth time at 9 hours, 53 minutes and 16 seconds.

This Piper Apache and Cessna 172 pilot is currently training for the Hapalua half marathon next April. The mother of five, grandmother of 18 and great-grandma of 26 has outlived her 30-year-old son, who lost his battle with brain cancer in 1995. Gladys did come pretty close to death once when, at age 50, she was hiking in Oregon. “I was hemorrhaging in the mountains. I was in a beautiful meadow with pristine streams flowing around me. All I could think of was the 23rd Psalm from the Bible. I recited it, prayed, ‘The Lord is my shepherd …’ I felt a certain peace and calm, and I was not afraid,” recalls Gladys, who believes that, had she panicked, she might not have made it out alive.

At age 94, Gladys believes she has a direct connection to the heavens when she is on the trails of the great outdoors and meets people from all walks of life.

“I do a lot of praying when I am out there so that I can be an encouragement to others. I am hardly a stranger to joggers and walkers anymore,” she says. “These are people who need God in their lives and who are lost without him. I talk, pray and develop close relationships with them. I am uplifted when I come in contact with them.”

She receives divine inspiration during her daily treks. “We hug, hold hands and they tell me how I inspire them. I am proud of them, too. I feel closeness to God and know Jesus when I am with them.”

Glady Burrill, 94, still holds the record she set in 2010 of being the oldest woman to ever complete a marathon | Photo from Pat Bigold

She is strengthened by her motto from the Good Book, “I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength.”

Though faith plays a big role in Gladys’ health success, “daily white bread” does not. Her diet consists of cold oatmeal mixed with bananas and 1 percent milk for breakfast, cottage cheese in half a papaya or a tossed salad for lunch, and a frozen vegetarian dinner at night. She always devours fruits for desserts. “Sometimes I will treat myself to a fish taco or a sprinkle of chicken over salad. I gain my strength from brown rice, pasta and wheat bread with no butter.”

Her secret to the fountain of youth: She never smoked or drank alcohol in her life, rises early to exercise at 6:30 a.m., six days a week, and retires at 8 p.m. She rests on her Sabbath day (Saturday), takes multi-vitamins and consumes cancer-fighting veggies. She practices positive thinking, maintains a close relationship with God and lives a happy lifestyle.

“Life is fragile; we just have to make the most of each moment. Power walking is putting your utmost energy into it and enjoying it. If you are sitting around a lot, I think it is easier to catch germs and get sick. I keep active. There are times when the weather is so bad outside that I just walk around in the house to get my exercise and make a trail from the kitchen, to the bedroom, up the steps and back.”

Take it from a master walker who walks the walk and dreams of tandem sky-diving and maybe even a trip to space someday.

You go, Gladys!

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