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Harlem's 87-year-old Marathoner Inspires Others

By Jeff Mays | August 22, 2011 1:17pm
Lucille Singleton has competed in dozens of running and track and field events.
Lucille Singleton has competed in dozens of running and track and field events.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM — Lucille Singleton will be 88-years-old next month, but the Harlem senior runs almost everywhere she goes.

In addition to starting her day at 4 a.m. by running three miles a day, she goes to the gym at least four times a week, hitting six or seven nautilus machines during each a session. Even receiving dialysis treatments hasn't stopped Singleton from running.

"They take the needle out of my arm and I run home," Singleton said with a chuckle.

Singleton has run three New York City Marathons and placed in the top 10 in her age group each time, including third place in 2001 when she was 78, finishing the marathon in 8:03:42.

"It was great. I didn't train for it. I just went for it and did it," said Singleton, who had three children, one of whom passed away recently.

The former construction worker first fell in love with running in high school when she was on the track team.

"I just loved running. I used to run back and forth to the store," said Singleton, who said she moved to New York from South Carolina in 1950, and then got busy with life.

At the age of 71, after spending years caring for the elderly as a home health care worker, she began a career in construction where she helped to build 19 Rite Aid drugstores.

At first, the construction manager wanted Singleton to be a flag person, but she found that to be too boring.

"You don't do anything but hold a flag," said Singleton. "I told my boss I want to carry things from one place to another."

And that's just what she did.

Although Singleton began volunteering for the New York Road Runners Club in 1980, it wasn't until she was 75 years old in 1998 that she decided to give the marathon a try.

A friend's daughter was running and Singleton told the woman how she once ran in high school and thought she might like running a marathon. She ran in the marathon and finished fifth in her age group.

"Everyone was amazed. Nothing stops me from doing what I want to do," said Singleton.

Singleton also competes in other senior sporting events. In the 2009 Empire State Senior Games, Singleton placed first in her age group and won gold medals in the 100 meter dash, 200 meter dash and 400 meter run.

She is somewhat of a legend in Harlem. When Singleton recently showed up to work out at the New York Sports Club, the workers there perked up.

"Let me get your autograph," said Devina Maxwell, 25, who works he front desk at the gym. "I'm so proud to see someone in her age range doing her thing. God has truly blessed her."

"Ms. Lucille is a very strong woman. She runs every morning at 5 a.m. and it has inspired me to get in shape," said Patina Milon, 27.

Deloris Pinkney, 57, a housekeeper at the gym, said she was stunned when she found out that Singleton had run marathons.

"She's amazing," said Pinkney.

Myra Livingston, another worker at the gym, said Singleton is an inspiration.

"I'm so proud of you because you inspire people," she told Singleton. "I've been saying for years that she should be known for her accomplishments."

That doesn't mean that people don't worry about Singleton.

"One day she came in with snow and ice on the ground and she left to run home. I was standing at the door saying: 'Don't run. Please,'" said Livingston.

Singleton tells people not to worry about her. Even her children have a hard time catching her at home. She says the running has helped her health. "I haven't had a pain in 30 years," she says.

But after recently having knee replacement surgery, her doctor has asked she not run another marathon. Singleton is heeding his advice— for now.

"I'm going to do this for the rest of my life," she said. "I'm not ever going to quit as long as I can move my body."