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Fame finds Grand Island woman

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James P. McCoy/Buffalo News
Gloria Brown, 74, is among a class of 11 entering the USA Track & Field Masters Hall of Fame.


The athletic career of Gloria Brown of Grand Island is proof of one of life's great truisms: It's never too late to start.

"Age doesn't matter," she said.

Brown started running at age 46, more than a quarter-century ago. Now she's a Hall of Famer.

Brown, 74, recently found out that she had been named to USA Track & Field's Masters Hall of Fame. The new class of 11 joins 118 others who have been inducted starting in 1996.

"Norm Green from Philadelphia [a USATF Hall of Famer himself and an official with that organization] called and mentioned that I had been nominated for the Masters Hall of Fame," she said. "I had to get my picture taken so that it could be sent in for a plaque.

"It's the last [running honor] I'll ever get. . . . Running was a large part of my life for 23 years."

Brown admits that her success at the sport was completely unexpected.

"[Husband] Jim had run before," she said. "Women were just getting involved in running, so I decided to give it a try [in 1978]. I bought the cheapest running shoes they had, and I ran in a fun run in Canada. I felt a little foolish.

"There was a club in Grand Island; Dick Bessel started it. My first race was a 5K. Pat Bessel said, "Don't you dare walk.' I ran it very slowly, but I think I came in second in my age group.

"Once I hit 50, I found I got better."

That's for sure. She traveled throughout the country to run, and became one of the nation's best in her age group. Brown piled up awards in bunches over the years, capturing her age group 14 times in the national championships. She set several records along the way, and still has the 60-64 national record for the 25-kilometer run (1:58:24), set in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1994.

"I was never particularly athletic," Brown said. "I found it was something I could do. My running style was not so good. I was told I had a short stride, but I was able to compete pretty well. I'm slightly under 5 feet tall, so I don't have the long legs, but I had a quick turnover."

Her career lasted more than two decades, but the ex-schoolteacher was forced to retire about six years ago.

"I thought I was going to run until I was 100, but I developed osteoporosis and osteoarthritis in my knee. That blew my running career," she said. "My speed started to dwindle. My stride started to get shorter."

It's easy for Brown to become a little nostalgic, particularly when the USATF called to tell her she had become one of 13 female long distance runners, and 41 women overall, to be included in the Masters' Hall.

"I do miss it, but I'm beyond that. But that's not to say I wouldn't go right back to it," she said. "I ran for the Nickel City Road Runners and have friends in Syracuse with the Chargers [a running club there]. My son Dan is a runner.

"I refuse to give up my running clothes."