KEMPNER – Jan Ward had never been a runner before she agreed to enter a half-marathon in Fort Worth with a friend.
Eight years later, the 75-year-old Kempner mother and grandmother has completed races of various distances in all 50 states – and is also more than halfway to her goal of finishing a half-marathon in every state in the country.
“In June 2013, a friend said, ‘I’m going to be 40 in the spring,’” Ward said. “’Let’s do Cowtown half (marathon) as a team for my birthday.’ I thought it would be fun, so I signed up for it. Mind you, I’d never run anything before – only my household.
“In July, I sent her a message and I said, ‘Hey, Megan, what is a half-marathon?
“She said 13.1 miles and I thought, ‘OK, well, I go to the gym; I take Les Mills (group fitness) classes. I can do a half-marathon.
“In August, I went to Alabama to house-sit for my son. When he got home, he said, ‘Mom, what are you going to do to train?’
“I said, ‘I go to a Les Mills gym five days a week.’
“He said, ‘Mom, you have to train. You have to run miles.’”
After attending her 50th high school reunion in Chicago, the retired dental hygienist researched and found a 21-week training schedule, recruited a fellow gym member to help her train, and started running on a treadmill to get ready for the Cowtown event the following year in February.
That same week, she learned about a race in Lampasas and decided to test the waters, so to speak. She asked her 11-year-old grandson, who had competed in several youth triathlons and regularly spent weekends with her, if he wanted to join her.
The youngster, who is named Turtle in honor of a PRCA rodeo cowboy, quickly agreed.
Not only did Turtle join grandma in the Lampasas run, when she later decided to try and complete a race in all 50 states, he agreed to do that, as well.
“I met a woman who had run marathons in all 50 states and on every continent across the world,” Ward said. “I went home one day and I said to Turtle, ‘You know, what would you think if we embarked on a challenge to run a race in every state?’
“I said, ‘We could do a 5K in every state. Let’s just do it.’
“He said, ‘That sounds like fun,’ and I started looking up races.”
Their first race together was in Texas and the 50th was in Alaska. By the time they finished the last one in 2018, Turtle – now attending Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi – decided that was enough, but grandma was not ready to hang up her sneakers just yet.
“By that time, I already had halfs in four states,” she said. “I had Texas, Idaho, Alaska, and Nevada.”
Ward was well on her way to reaching her new goal when COVID-19 brought things to a screeching halt, and now she is battling a perplexing hip and leg issue that she hopes will be corrected soon, so she can resume her quest.
“I don’t mind limping my way right now through a 5K. But to do half-marathons right now is asking for trouble.”
Ward says she plans to keep running as long as her body will allow. She enjoys running and competing, but the health benefits are also important.
“I like to stay in shape, and I also love to travel.
“I have a pretty slow metabolism, so I can put weight on pretty fast. I always tried to keep my weight down.
“I used to do the exercises with Jack LaLanne or whoever was on TV, and I always parked way out and walked to the store, for those extra steps. But when we retired and I came here, I did my first career job and the first ten years, I gained fifty pounds.
“I applied for a large life insurance policy, and I got the policy, but they said if you lose x-number of pounds, we’ll credit your next renewal by two-hundred or two-hundred and fifty dollars, or something. I did SlimFast – didn’t know anything about gyms or anything – and lost about 30 pounds.
“Turtle was born in 2002 – I also have grandsons who were born in 1992 and 1994 – and so when he came along, I thought, ‘If I’m going to be any kind of a grandmother to him …’
“That’s when I joined the gym (Sweat at Cove Fitness, which back then was called Ace Athletics), when it was down in Towne Square. I used to bring him with me when I had him on the weekends.
“The rest is history, and now I also have a 2-year-old grandchild and a 5-year-old, so that gives me even more motivation to stay fit.”