Sylvia Quinn had never been a runner.
Nearly 50 years ago when her husband, Patrick, asked Quinn to take a couple laps around with him on the running track on Fairchild Air Force Base, she hesitated. Her comfort zone was in the pit at the end of the long-jump track, playing in the sand with her daughter and watching Patrick from afar as he ran himself breathless.
But Patrick insisted that she give running a shot, so Quinn stood up, brushed off the sand and started to jog on the track alongside her husband.
It didn’t go so well.
Just one lap in and she was bending over catching her breath. She was done.
“At the end of that first lap he said, ‘Well, you’ll never be a runner,’ ” Quinn said, smiling and looking down at her feet as she remembered her excuse. “I said, ‘Well it’s the shoes.’ ”
Her tennis shoes back then barely had a sole, but that excuse didn’t hold much water with Patrick. Even when Quinn went out to buy a new pair of leather Adidas, Patrick still wasn’t convinced that she would ever be able to keep up.
But Quinn liked a challenge, so when Patrick left for a six-month tour to Vietnam, she promised him that she would run 600 miles before he returned.
She started running the track at Fairchild almost daily while her daughter played in the sand. During the winter, she would set her daughter up with a coloring book in the stands of the gym while she took laps around the basketball court.
In six months, she had surpassed the 600 miles she pledged to Patrick.
“He was amazed,” Quinn said.
And so was Quinn, who had become almost obsessed with running longer distances all over Spokane. In the mid-1970s, she found others who shared her newfound passion when she joined a road-runners club and started participating in the city’s monthly 5-kilometer Spokane Heart fun runs.
But Quinn needed something a bit more challenging, and so did the other club runners. Chatter about creating a much longer, tougher run started popping up in conversation among Quinn and her friends.
In 1977, Quinn and other club runners, including Ed Rockwell, who led the monthly fun runs, organized the first Bloomsday race.
Quinn was among the nearly 1,200 runners who finished the race that year. Since then, she has never missed a Bloomsday race. Not one.
Even at 80 years old, Quinn plans on running her 41st Bloomsday on Sunday. She’ll be racing alongside her 72-year-old training partner, Gunhild Swanson, who has only missed two Bloomsdays since the run started.
Swanson heard about Bloomsday a year after the race began. Like Quinn, Swanson wasn’t a natural-born runner. She said it took her six weeks to finally run a mile without stopping or feeling the awful side-ache that often visits new runners. Swanson continued her training for her first Bloomsday run in ’78 with other members of the road-runners club.
That’s where she eventually met Quinn. The two became friends in the running club but remained competitors on the Bloomsday course. They trained separately and ran other local races, half marathons and several marathons before finally coming together nearly 30 years later as training partners.
Today, Quinn and Swanson run together once or twice a week, often depending on the weather. Their training course sometimes extends to 20 miles in a single day and often takes them off-road – Swanson’s sweet spot.
Her strength on the trails comes in handy when Quinn attempts to pass her up on the road. Swanson said she’ll steer the course to a trail, where she can slow down Quinn and catch up with the 80-year-old.
“She would just be a step ahead of me … and she would really pull me and push me along and make me work hard,” Swanson said. “But then I’d veer off onto a trail. That’s the only way I could keep up with her and catch my breath and slow down.”
Quinn and Swanson expect to be near the front of the estimated 43,000 registered runners on Sunday. The two expect to finish the 12-kilometer race in an hour, more or less.
Then they’ll turn around and run it again, because that’s where they get to see the real joy and love for the race they’ve known for so much of their lives.
“Coming through that (second time) you see that – the joy. You have people of all sizes, all ages, all races back there having a great time,” Swanson said.
You see “families out having a wonderful time. Friends who challenge themselves once a year … for them that’s the big event – to walk it, to be there in the back,” Swanson said. “They could care less who won the race … they’re just out there. They’re just out there living their own challenge, their own joy. That to me is what Bloomsday is all about.”
Dan Pelle - The Spokesman-Review
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