By Patricia Demchak
Eighty-eight-year-old Hy Simon jaunts into the Alley Pond Park house after a brisk morning walk, easily lifts his leg onto a chest-high counter and leans into a deep stretch.
Meanwhile, Phil Marcus and Harry Judd, both 81, trade banter after their multi-mile walks and Stan Zibulsky, 61, cools off after a six-mile jog. He’s preparing for his 90th marathon.
One step at a time, these well-aged athletes are redefining the meaning of “senior” and hoping to promote healthier habits in the community.
The men are all members of the Alley Pond Striders, a walking and running club for all ages that meets daily at the park in Little Neck. The 265-member club unites athletes of both genders and all abilities for activities ranging from competitive training to mere recreational exercise.
The Striders also sponsor various New York races and host their own yearly challenge. This year the 18th annual Alley Pond Striders Five-mile Challenge will take place at 10 a.m. Sunday, April 28, along the historic Vanderbilt Motor Parkway and other paths in Alley Pond Park. Runners and walkers of all ages are welcome; there is even a special “fun run” for children under age 13.
Octogenarian and younger Striders alike plan to participate.
“The definition of seniors is different no matter where you go,” said Hank Cline, 59, an Alley Pond Strider who has run 27 marathons and can still break a 3:10 time, according to his peers. Cline added that a department store, for instance, defines the cutoff for seniors at a younger age than a movie theater — in other words, the definition is arbitrary.
Here among the Striders the word “senior” is an ageless term that simply means one has more time to train -and a few extra minutes to enjoy a bagel, schmear and smiles after each day’s hour or more of working out.
Simon, the limber 88-year-old, used to run an hour straight, three days a week until he slipped on ice two winters ago and begrudgingly agreed to reduce his regimen to vigorous walks due to “doctors’ orders.” He ran his most recent half marathon at the age of 80.
While some might find this feat miraculous, Simon and other members like him simply view their accomplishments as normal and believe healthy, active old age is attainable for everyone.
Simon said he became a runner late in his life. He first began exercising at a gym at age 50, he said, and started jogging on the indoor track in only half-mile increments. Gym members passing by encouraged him to strive for one mile, then two until eventually Simon could run some 13 miles.
The key, said Zibulsky, is to build slowly and continue to challenge yourself, no matter what challenges stand in the way. Zibulsky should know: he has run 89 marathons since age 34 and said he finished every one, no matter how long it took. Heeven placed dead last in the 2000 Long Island marathon after more than six hours of trudging through blistering heat, he said.
“Sometimes I stop and I say, ‘I’m 61 years old and I just ran 18 miles!’” Zibulsky said. “That’s what keeps you going: that you can keep doing it and that you’ve got to prove to yourself that you can keep on doing it.”
Alley Pond Striders Five-mile Challenge
Date: April 28, 2002 at 10 a.m. ; Children’s Fun Run at 9:30 a.m.
Location: Alley Pond Park at Winchester Blvd. and Union Turnpike
Cost: $15 preregistration; $18 race-day registration; $5 fun run
Benefits: portion of proceeds will be donated to City Harvest and other charities
Contact: (718) 454-3492 or drop by the Alley Pond Park office on Winchester Blvd.
Reach reporter Patricia Demchak by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.