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John Burke, 92

Pittsford resident has run for 50 years — still participates in 5K competitions in Rochester area

By Ernst Lamothe Jr.

Q: What got you into running?

A: I have been running for over 50 years. I was active in the Rochester Track Club a while back. We had races almost every week in various parts of the area. That enjoyment of running continued as I started to run marathons in my 30s. I was even able to run three Boston marathons and one in Canada. Boston was so incredible and I was in my 60s when I ran there for the final time. It was such a thrill to compete. Today, I mostly run 5K races in the area. Those short races are good for me.

Q: What keeps you going?

A: It is something that is just so relaxing to me. I enjoy going out to run because it really does clear my mind. I truly believe running keeps you alive. When I wake up, my routine is just to go to the canal around four days a week. I live just a mile away and it is just beautiful. When I run, I feel so free and relaxed. You really don’t have a care in the world and I can just let everything go. And it is even better when I can run for a good cause like the many fundraisers that we have here in Rochester

Q: Does the cold weather keep you from running?

A: Absolutely not. The way I think about it is that the canal is open all year around. There are very few days that I allow the cold weather to keep me from enjoying the great outdoors. I may run a little slower those days, but I am out there. It just keeps me young. People are surprised by my answer because we lived in Hawaii before and people probably didn’t think I could handle the Rochester winters at my age. But I love Rochester and it is an ideal place for me.

Q: How long does it take you to run a 5K now?

A: Well I will focus on what I run now and I recently ran a 5K in about 57 minutes. I still try to push myself. Maybe not as much as I did when I ran the marathons, but I do try to keep a good pace. When I was younger it was a little more about getting the fastest times possible. But now the joy of running is good enough for me.

Q: How is your overall health with all this running?

A: I’m doing pretty good. Of course the knees aren’t as great as when I was running in my 30s and 40s, but nothing prevents me from going out on that trail and enjoying a good jog. You just have to know your body as you get older and make sure you can handle everything. I don’t run everyday so I give my body some time to rest.

Q: What do you do for fun other than running?

A: I’m lucky to be in a great community in Cloverwood, an independent living facility that I really enjoy everyday. I get to interact with people and I take care of my wife. There is always something going on and it is a great environment. We help each other out and we are always having a good time. I am always trying to get people to consider running. I also enjoy myself by taking walks with my wife and I have children and grandchildren that keep me happy and active.

Q: What advice do you have for other senior citizens?

A: You have to enjoy life and move around a little bit. I am always telling people that exercise is the key to staying young. Even if all you are doing is walking. There is something about breathing in fresh air and enjoying the peace of nature that keeps you young and excited to wake up every morning.

Q: Can you talk about your military service?

A: In 1941 when the war broke out, many of my classmates left to join the military. However, my father said, “you’re not leaving until you get your high school degree.” That was one of the best things my dad ever said to me. I really am grateful for that. After high school, I joined the Navy in 1943 and was sent to service school in fire control. I was trained to operate electro-hydraulic gun systems of cannons on the ships. There were 26 ships in my squadron and they took 200 marines and their tanks from Honolulu to the Battle at Iwo Jima, which lasted roughly about a month. They dropped off the marines; however many of them were killed because the Japanese were prepared for their arrival. The next island the squadron moved on to was Okinawa. The navy was a great experience.