It isn’t that Peggy Richko hasn’t always been a runner; she has. But for years, it was the sport she did quietly, behind the scenes. Growing up in the 60s, long before Title IX, running wasn’t something girls did in high school. With no other real athletic opportunities, Richko quietly accepted the roll of cheerleader, spending her time on the sidelines yelling for the boys’ teams.
But behind the scenes—before her cheerleading practices—Richko ran alongside the boys on the track team, sneaking in time at the sport she truly loved. The passion and habit stuck, and throughout the next several decades, Richko kept at as a way to stay fit. Finally, in her 50s, the doors began to open for females, and Richko started running races. Never in her wildest dreams did she think her talent and love of the sport would be rewarded with a sponsorship, but that’s exactly where she finds herself today.
Richko, now 72, is one of three “Elite Grannies,” newly sponsored by the women’s running apparel brand Oiselle. Her teammates include Donna Keto, 73, from West Kelowna, British Columbia, and Marjorie Conry, a 73-year old runner from Chicago. Richko hails from West Milford, NJ, and will happily share with you that her favorite running route takes her through two states (NJ and NY). And they are all grannies, in fact, with 10 grandchildren between them.
The women will be found racing events around the country in 2020, proudly sporting their Elite Grannies’ singlets.
Why sponsor a team like this? “We wanted to celebrate women who are still getting out there and competing at age 70 and beyond,” says Oiselle’s Sarah Lesko. “They blow up our concepts of aging.”
Adult Onset Running
Richko stands out among her teammates with her long history of running. Conry and Keto, by contrast, didn’t find the sport until well into adulthood. “I began as a walker in 2011,” says Conry. “My daughter had signed up for a Disney half marathon and while she ran, I walked the 5k.”
Like many moms, Conry worries about her kids. After Conry had wrapped up her 3.1 miles, she had plenty of time to wonder where her daughter was on the course and whether or not she was ok. “I had listened to Jeff Galloway give a talk about the run/walk method, so I decided that the next time my daughter entered a race, I was going to run/walk alongside her,” says Conry. “That way I wouldn’t have to worry.”
In 2013, Conry and her daughter entered three half marathons and completed them together, along with several 5ks. “It’s a wonderful way to spend time together,” she says. “Not only that, but I’m healthier and feel better than ever.”
In fact, Conry had suffered from a heart murmur and before taking on running, paid a visit to her cardiologist. “I got the green light to train and today my heart is steadier and stronger,” she says.
Keto also came to the sport later in life and like Conry, got started thanks to her running daughter. “I was living overseas and my daughter asked me to join her at a Disney race,” she explains. “I had just had bunion surgery and wasn’t sure if I could do it, but I signed up for a 5k and was hooked.”
The excitement of the race-day experience buoyed Keto. “It cheered me up and got me out of the dumps,” she says. “I was never athletic as a kid, but this got me going.”
Since that first 5k, Keto has gone on to complete two full marathons, several half marathons, and even the Dopey Challenge, which consists of a 5k, a 10k, a half marathon, and then a full marathon, completed over four consecutive days.
In a typical week, all of the women get out to train several times. “I don’t do anything crazy, but I will get on the treadmill for some speedwork,” says Richko. “Once a week, I’ll run longer, in the eight- to 10-mile range, totaling around 25 miles a week.”
Representing Women Over 70
Keto says that when the first “running boom” hit in the 1970s, she never considered giving it a go. “It just didn’t appeal to me,” she says, “but now I realize how much I enjoy being out there and racing. It’s never too late.”
At races, Richko says that there are still few women over 70 competing in her age group, but she expects that to change. “Many women my age are just discovering the sport,” she says. “I think we’ll see many more in the coming decade.”
Conry encourages her peers to give running a try if they think it’s something they might like. “I don’t race to win, I race to finish,” she says, “but it’s something I want to do for as long as I can. It has become my passion.”