Winfield Bassage kicked off his 4th of July weekend as always on Saturday, lining up with dozens of his Fort Collins Running Club friends to complete the FireKracker 5K at City Park.
Bassage was unable to run the race this year, as he had done seven of the previous eight years.
But he wasn’t going to get away with it.
So, just over two weeks before his 92nd birthday, the oldest participant completed the 3.1-mile course in just over an hour. A recent procedure to remove some of the cancerous skin from his scalp has kept Bassage indoors more than he would like and prevented him from training for the race.
“I think I probably did well for my age group,” he joked afterward.
Bassage, who has become something of a celebrity among FireKracker 5K regulars, ran the 2018 race in 40 minutes and 41 seconds. He competed in a virtual version with his daughter, Leslie Butler, and other family members in 2020 at the age of 89 and finished in 49:04 – the best time among all participants over 80 year.
After receiving applause from a dozen friends who were there to cheer her on after she crossed the finish line on Saturday, Leslie said, “It was probably her last 5K.”
Winfield, catching his breath at a picnic table, wasn’t so sure.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I think if I get the chance to train for it, I could be back next year.”
More than 1,000 runners and walkers, cheered on by nearly as many spectators, began their holiday weekend with the annual race on Saturday, race director Lisa Sinclair said.
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Traditionally held on the 4th of July, organizers chose to move the race to Saturday this year to coincide with the city of Fort Collins’ other Independence Day activities, including a parade, alumni baseball games , a gathering of food trucks and a party. Fireworks at some point over Lake Sheldon.
Seventeen-year-old Christian Groendyk, who will be a fall senior at Fort Collins High School, and recent Poudre High graduate Joseph Houdeshell, 18, finished 1-2 in the citizen race with times of 16 minutes, 3 seconds and 16:22, respectively.
Shelley McDonald, 40, of Loveland was the first woman to cross the finish line in 18:18. Allie Sibole, 29, of Longmont was second in 7:00 p.m.
Ben Eidenschink, a former University of Wisconsin runner who now lives and trains in Boulder, won the men’s elite race on a separate four-lap course around City Park‘s Lake Sheldon in 14:13, two seconds ahead of the runner-up Brian Barraza, a native of El Paso, Texas, who also trains in Boulder. Jessica Watychowicz, a Chicago native who lives and trains in Colorado Springs, was the women’s winner in 16:40. Sophie Anders of Fort Collins, a member of the local Front Range Elite pro team, was second in 17:17.
Winfield, however, was just as popular as the elite runners.
Dozens of participants looked for him at the start line to wish him good luck and many wondered if they would be able to continue racing like this when they reached his age.
He had to have his right arm amputated as a teenager and avoided bypass surgery in his 60s after x-rays and scans revealed he had developed a capillary around an artery that was ’90-95 per cent blocked’ “, said Leslie.
“I think dad’s philosophy of always staying fit and eating well kept him pretty strong,” she said.
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More and more older runners, many inspired by Fort Collins legend Libby James – who set several national records by age group and even a world record or two well past her 70s and 80s years – continue to compete in the FireKracker 5K and other local road races. , says Sinclair.
“I’ve been doing this race for over 10 years, and when I started I think the highest age group was 60+,” James said. “Over the years we started to have people in their 70s and the last two years we have had people in their 80s and this year we have one over 90.”
Winfield moved from New Hampshire to LaPorte about 10 years ago, to be closer to Leslie, a teacher at O’Dea Elementary School. He has a regular 5km route from his home around Watson Lake and back that he ran for years and was still walking steadily until his recent surgery.
“I’ve never done more than a 5K,” he said during an interview at his home earlier in the week. “I didn’t feel like I wanted to go that far.”
Winfield said he used to run to a friend’s house, who lived on a farm on a hill just outside his hometown in New York, and come back before breakfast several days a week when he was younger and never really thought about it. Running was just faster than walking, he says.
He jogged with his children while they were growing up and in summer camps while serving as a scout leader in Ohio.
“I was usually in front of everyone,” he said.
Winfield didn’t get too involved in road racing until much later in life, however, competing in the Colorado and New Mexico Senior Games in his 80s alongside a sister who was eight. taller than him and setting records for his age. He competed at the Senior National Games in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at age 89 and finished second in the 5k for his age, Leslie said.
Wearing a multicolored Fort Collins Running Club hat to cover the bandages on his scalp, a t-shirt from the previous year’s FireKracker 5K, blue jeans and his running shoes, Winfield, a retired high school math teacher, drew applause and cheers from onlookers scattered along the route.
He feared he had finished last but got a little brighter when his daughter and others pointed out a handful of walkers still crossing the finish line a good five minutes after he finished.
A big smile appeared on his face.
“I’ve been running all my life,” he said earlier. “You have to stay in shape, and that’s just something I like to do.”
Kelly Lyell reports on CSU, high school, and other local sports and topics of interest to Colorado. Contact him at [email protected], follow him on Twitter @KellyLyell and find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/KellyLyell.news. If you are a subscriber, thank you for your support. If not, consider purchasing a digital subscription today.