ST PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — They say “age is just a number.” For St. Petersburg’s Betty Ashley that means a race number.
Ashley turned 100 years old on June,15 2021, and for the past decade, she has been out on the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic course.
“It’s kind of exciting because you’re part of something big,” said Betty. ” Many people come from all over to do that race. It’s not just a local thing,” she continued.
She and her partner Jim Oakley, who is 76 years old, have lined up for the race in the rain, the heat, and the hot sun over those years. She has the hardware to prove it, too. She keeps all her medals displayed on a desk in her living room. She also displays her plaques for winning her age group of 95 and over.
“Well, I never would have done it if it hadn’t been for my friend, Jim. He’s the one that always encouraged me to do the races,” she said.
Oakley is a former marathon runner, and he is right by her side on the 5K course, often holding her hand. While she walks the 3.1 mile course, she has one thing on her mind, and it is the same thing all the runners and walkers are thinking.
“I think about, how far are we now? When are we going to turn?” Ashley laughingly admitted.
In 2021, a few months before her 100th birthday, her whole family came to Tampa to walk the course with her.
“My youngest son, Carl, who I named after my father. He lives in New York State, and he’s the only barber in the town,” Ashley said.
Some of her family will return for this year’s race, but Ashley will not be walking this year. That’s because she will be riding in a car at the front of the race. She’s been selected as grand marshal this year. “I couldn’t believe it,” said Ashley.
She has been practicing her signature wave for her trek down Bayshore Boulevard. She is looking forward to it, which just happens to be one of her secrets to long life.
“I think you have to have something that’s interesting and important to do. You have to have something to look forward to, and you have to have somebody to love,” she said as she patted Jim on the arm.
The two have been together for 15 years, and they met at the Sunshine Center, where they still regularly go exercise.
They certainly don’t see age as a reason to slow down.
The Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic races are Feb. 26 and 27. The 15K and 5K races are on Saturday morning, and the half marathon and 8K races are Sunday morning.