Ruth and Allan Willman had one request for their family before the Barnyard Dash 5K last April in Montgomery, Illinois—show up to the finish. So, the four children and 11 grandchildren did as they were told, having no idea that for the past several weeks, the Willmans, both 79, had trained to complete their first road race.
“We didn’t tell any of our family, because we wanted it to be a surprise,” Ruth Willman said. “But we trained ourselves every day by walking more miles. We started by walking a mile, and then a mile and a half and so on—all the way up to three.”
As first reported by WGN 9, they didn’t just finish. They came home with some hardware—and more than just participants’ medals.
The Willmans were inspired to move by their kids and grandkids, all athletes themselves. But Allan said exercising became even more important after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease a little over a year ago. He said his diagnosis has given the two of them more of an incentive to get outside daily, and this 5K seemed like a good next step.
They also incorporated light lifting and stretching into their daily routine, which Allan said helps with his hand tremors.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” he said. “I’ve seen how my exercise really helps me, and makes me stronger.”
On race day, the duo maintained around 20 minutes per mile. Ruth clocked a 1:00:59 and Allan a 1:01:48.
“I raised my hands over my head at the end, and I just felt like Rocky,” Ruth said, laughing. “It was so exciting to have all my children and grandkids there, cheering me on at the finish.”
To celebrate their win, the pair and their family went to a local eatery they frequent, proudly showcasing their medals while they dined on what they called a “victory breakfast”—chocolate doughnuts.
“We walked in, and everyone started standing up and clapping for us, and Allan and I just showed off our medals,” Ruth said.
To commemorate their 5K, their children compiled a book of photos from the race as a gift.
“It’s just the nicest thing,” she said. “It just makes us so happy.”
A little over a month after their 5K debut, the Willmans are continuing to enjoy their daily walks outdoors. They signed up for another 5K in July, hoping to add a few more pictures to the photo book, now displayed on their dining room table.
This article first appeared on Runner’s World.