Sandra Orlando, 66, gets off to a good start at the J. West Prostate Cancer 5K Run and Walk on Jan. 4.
GULFPORT – The runners huddled together, jumped around, jogged a bit down the road – anything to try to stay warm.
It was just sunrise on a day that would only average 56 degrees, and it certainly hadn’t reached even that yet. But the runners were up and ready for the J. West Prostate Cancer 5K Run and Walk, starting and ending at the Gulfport Casino on Jan. 4.
Just two years earlier, Sandra Orlando, now 66, could barely run two blocks. On Jan. 1 that year, she was determined to start on her New Year’s Resolution.
“It was my New Year’s Resolution. Not to run, per se, or even to lose weight, but to keep my weight in check,” Orlando said. “Because the older you get, the harder that is to do. So I went out January the first and stumbled about 200 yards. My chest was heaving. When I finally managed to stand up straight again, I thought, ‘Tomorrow I’ll get to that tree over there.’ And I just went from there. It’s surprising how quickly you get used to it.”
Orlando is originally from Yorkshire, England, grew up in Scarborough, and now lives in Gulfport. She had never been a runner or into sports and actually was more of a couch potato, she said with a laugh. She raised two children, so that kept her running around, but not in the same way.
“This is pretty much a totally new venture for me,” Orlando said.
She chose running because “it seemed the surest way to keep the weight down.” She swims, too, but though that is a nice, low-impact activity, it never seemed to help her lose weight, and she got bored with just walking.
With perseverance, Orlando soon could run further and further distances without stopping. By October of that year, she ran her first 5K race: The Hip Expressions Belly Dance Studio’s Bellies for Boobies team for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure 5K in St. Petersburg.
“I’d run a 5K enough times (on my own) to convince myself that I wouldn’t make an absolute fool of myself,” Orlando said. “Although a lot of people in the race walked a bit and ran a bit, walked a bit and ran a bit. It’s actually impossible to make a fool of yourself. They’re all really fun, family type occasions with the spirit of camaraderie.”
Since then, Orlando caught the racing bug and has competed in a total of 18 races. In the beginning, her times were around 39 minutes, and the last race she ran before going on a Christmas holiday to England was her best time, at 30:23, she said.
She predicted that the Gulfport race on Jan. 4 would be slower, as she hadn’t been training in England and had stuffed herself with delicious fish and chips.
However, she still made a respectable time of 31:42, coming in second in her age category of 65 to 69 and right in the middle of the overall women of all ages, at 40 out of 79 runners.
Her pile of awards and medals is accumulating quickly, as she usually places first or second in her age category. Her new goal for 2014 is to achieve an official time of less than 30 minutes.
While Orlando does mostly 5K runs, she also ran her first 10K this past October, and she is planning on running a 15K this year. She might even tackle a half marathon in the fall, she said.
She tries to run at least one race per month and always chooses races that benefit charities. Usually they benefit research for various cancers, health conditions, women or children, she said. She doesn’t like to do purely fun runs that benefit commercial ventures.
Running isn’t the only way Orlando keeps active. Never being one to enjoy the gym, she likes to bike ride as well as belly dance.
“I would never ever have imagined in my wildest dreams or nightmares that I would take up belly dancing,” Orlando said. “And I’m naughty, really. I don’t practice, so I’m not much better on than I was in my first year, but I have fun and it keeps me active, and I meet younger people and that helps keep you young as well. Belly dancing is probably as good for me as running is.”
Orlando said that she always had fancied tap dancing and had wanted to take up lessons when she was living near Washington, D.C., about four years ago, but she couldn’t find any available for adults. However, her friend who is even older than Orlando was taking belly dance lessons and convinced her to join as well.
She has enjoyed it ever since and now takes lessons at Hip Expressions Belly Dance Studio in St. Petersburg.
No matter what kind of exercise it is, Orlando encourages other seniors to find a fun way for them to be active. Of course it is advisable to first speak with a doctor before starting a new exercise regimen, but other than that, she said one shouldn’t worry if he or she can’t run for very long in the beginning. Start small and keep pushing a little farther each day, and one will be surprised by how quickly he or she will improve.
“It’s always hard,” Orlando said. “It’s not as hard now as it used to be. I know now when I set off, without a doubt, I can run a 5K, whereas when I first got started, I didn’t. The first 10 minutes, though, are always hard going. You just have to get a mental attitude there. First you have to get yourself out of bed and then through the first 10 minutes, but after that it’s fine.”
The high she gets after finishing a run or a race always makes it worth it, though. In the beginning, the high and sense of accomplishment could last for a few days, but even now she’ll still get it for at least a few hours.
And no matter what time you get, she said, the important thing is that you did it and put one foot in front of the other.