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Inspirational Marathoner to Celebrate 90th Birthday With Harlem Bash

By Jeff Mays | September 17, 2013 6:55am | Updated on September 17, 2013 10:35am
 Lucille Singleton, 87, has completed three New York City Marathons and runs three miles per day. 
 Lucille Singleton, 89, has completed three New York City Marathons and runs 3 miles per day.
Lucille Singleton
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HARLEM — Restaurateur Melba Wilson calls her a "Harlem icon" and commercial artist Lynn Lieberman says she's a "jewel."

At 89, Lucille Singleton still attracts attention as she runs through the streets of Harlem and works out at the New York Sports Club on 125th Street. Neither dialysis treatments nor a knee replacement have slowed down the three-time marathoner.

So, it's no shock that more than 200 people are gathering in Harlem Wednesday to celebrate Singleton's 90th birthday, including local politicians and the president of the New York Road Runners Club.

"She's turning 90 and it's a milestone because she's an icon in our community," said Wilson, owner of Melba's on 114th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard. "People still talk about how you can see her out jogging at 5 a.m. in the morning."

Singleton has yet to show any signs of slowing down. To celebrate her 90th birthday she plans to run the Fifth Ave Mile, a 20-block route along Museum Mile, just a few days after her party.

"My doctor told me I have the heart of a 40 year old," she said. "I told him it's the exercise. I keep busy seven days per week."

Lieberman said she, Wilson and Singleton have become so close they've taken to calling themselves the "three homegirls." When Lieberman realized Singleton's 90th birthday was approaching she asked Wilson what should they do.

"Melba said 'Let's have a party.' And when Melba says let's have a party, well, that means you're having a party," the artist said.

"While you're sleeping, she's jogging," the invitation says.

It's during morning runs and trips to and from dialysis appointments that Singleton stops at the stores along her route or stops in the street to greet new friends. On Sundays she hangs out outside Melba's.

Wilson will host the party at her 125th Street location, in the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building. The menu will include "healthy comfort food" such as the fish, chicken and collard greens that Singleton loves, but cooked in a healthy way.

Some of Singleton's family is coming from South Carolina and Singleton will sing a song she loves, "Thank You, Lord."

The space holds only 200 people, and the list quickly grew out of control because of all the people Singleton has inspired.

The soon-to be-nonagenarian, who worked on construction sites when she was in her 70s, began running marathons in 1998 at age 75. She has since run three, placing in the top 10 of her age group each time and winning gold medals in the Empire State Senior Games.

Singleton is single and on the market. She said she's looking for a man older than 60 — because her son is 60 — but younger than 80, so he can stand a chance of keeping up with her.

"I can't find a guy because they are too slow for me," said Singleton.

Right now, she has a hard time keeping up with all the attention she receives.

"For people in their 60s and 70s, Lucille is just a great story of inspiration," Lieberman said.

Wilson agreed.

"She's an inspiration to me because I've never once seen her down and she has to go to dialysis three days per week," said Wilson. "This party is about the community celebrating someone we love."

What Singleton loves is being active. She said she's excited about turning 90 and is making plans to keep moving until she is no longer physically able.

Judging from her smooth mahogany skin, quick wit and ready laugh, it doesn't seem that will happen anytime soon.

"When God comes calling, he's going to have to catch me," she said with a laugh.