Published in Senior Digest in the May 2015 Issue
The stars were in alignment. Just as the staff of Saint Elizabeth Community was organizing its first 5K run and walk as part of an employee fit to care wellness program, workers discovered that they were caring for an accomplished former marathon runner.
Bill McNulty, a 72-year-old afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, had 45 marathons races, including two in Australia, under his belt. He was the perfect choice to be named an honorary starter for the nonprofit’s 5K Run-Walk for Wellness at Slater Memorial Park in Pawtucket. The event was organized with assistance from volunteer students from the Career Partnership Center at Roger Williams University in Bristol.
McNulty’s wife, Deborah, 56, shared stories of her husband’s love of marathon racing with staff at the Cornerstone Adult Services Memory Care Center, Warwick, which ultimately led to his participation in the recent wellness event.
McNulty, a Warwick resident, ran in the Boston Marathon 15 times, the New York Marathon twice and the Mount Washington Road Race 26 times. Before the onset of Alzheimer’s, he easily logged 100 miles per week just to relax and keep in shape. Earlier in his life when he lived in North Kingstown, McNulty ran more than nine miles to his job at Brown & Sharpe, also in North Kingstown, regularly stopping along the way to pick up a box of Allie’s donuts.
At the 5K event, McNulty, wearing running pants and an official T-shirt, geared up for the upcoming race, surrounded by his wife, Debra; his son, Ian; and eight other family members. With a big smile on his face, the former marathon runner was stretching and lip syncing to the song, “Royals” by Lorde, waiting for his run.
Steven J. Horowitz, president and chief executive officer of Saint Elizabeth Community, kicked off the event by welcoming the 200 runners and walkers. By participating in the 3.1 mile race, they came to get in better physical shape and to honor McNulty. Horowitz noted how pleased he was to have Saint Elizabeth’s event added to McNulty’s prestigious list of races.
Richard Kyle, 64, a daily jogger, came to the Saint Elizabeth Community’s event on the invitation of an employee. “It’s unbelievable to me,” the Burrillville resident said of McNulty’s accomplishments.
“I can’t hold a candle to him,” says Kyle, who calculates that he runs about 31 miles a week in the Burrillville area.
McNulty’s obsession with running began while he was a high school student in Warwick, says Ian, who traveled from New Orleans to Pawtucket’s largest park to join his father for the run and celebrate Bill being named honorary starter.
Ian says even in harsh winters, his father would remain committed to running. “While some people had personal trainers to get them in shape to run, dad always had this inner drive,” Ian recalled. “It was something he had to do, and he didn’t over think it. He and his running buddies were tough and dedicated. They would just get up, have a donut and a beer and go run a marathon.”
“Racing can seem like a solitary experience,” says Ian, but over the years that belief would change. Bill began to see running as a community experience, even having a social side to it.
“My father was able to relive his glory days and even see some of his former racing buddies,” Ian said of the Slater Park event. “A lot of changes have taken place since my father was running in his prime. … He knows this event is very special, and that people are here to support him.”
By Herb Weiss, a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. Reach him at email@example.com.