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Outdoors & Recreation
Women still running in their 60s
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Photo courtesy of DONNA ZEFF
Donna Zeff, 65, runs in the Lady Speed Stick Women’s Half Marathon 2012 in St. Petersburg.
If you think you are too old or don’t have what it takes to be a runner think again. Three ladies in their 60s are all part of the FAB 50 running group and will tell you they are proof that there’s a first time for everything.

And you may just end up liking it.

Donna Zeff, 65, just started running in May of 2012. A friend and co-worker at Mildred Helms Elementary School, where she works, introduced her to it. Her friend told her how good it made her feel when she ran and convinced Zeff, who never ran a day in her life, to try it.

The first time she got out there, Zeff thought, “What was I thinking?” Now Zeff has completed 5Ks, 10Ks and even a half marathon.

“I never thought I could do this. I am not fast,” Zeff said.

It wasn’t easy right away, but as time goes on you do more and more, Zeff said. Right now, she’s training for another half marathon, the Iron Girl, which will take place in Clearwater.

Zeff trains three times a week. She said she feels healthier and stronger since running.

When she runs, Zeff thinks of her mom who passed away about three years ago. Her mom had severe osteoporosis and was so weak. Zeff said she doesn’t want that happening to her. She wants to be strong and healthy.

“Anyone can do it if they have the desire,” Zeff said. “You just need to challenge yourself.”

Her biggest supporter is her husband, Henry, she said. He had a big party for her with her family when she completed her first marathon.

Another person who didn’t do any running until recently is Susanna Versandi, 68. She said she was introduced to running when her Weight Watchers leader brought in the FAB 50 Women on the Run coach Pamela Paul.

Versandi remembered Paul saying that no matter how out of shape anyone was, she could get them from the couch to a half marathon. Versandi who had never run before, thought to herself, “If not now, when?”

On June 8, 2012, she began training for the half marathon in November. She said she bargained with herself that she didn’t have to be the best, she just had to show up. In fact, she was always last when running, but two things started to happen. She kept showing up and, when others dropped out, she kept finishing, no matter the time it took to finish.

Versandi started with the Sea Dog Brewery 5K in Clearwater and finished. She did the Pretty in Pink 15K in Clearwater and then the Florida Halloween 5K Race in Fort DeSoto, where she won her first medal for her age bracket.

More important to Versandi than the medals are the friendships she’s made, especially with her FAB 50 squad leader, Stacy Wilters.

“She kept urging me on and encouraging me,” Versandi said. “It’s better to do with a group than yourself because of accountability.”

Versandi runs three times a week and works on her core at the YMCA with a trainer two days a week. She may be retired, but she says she’s never busier with her running, women’s clubs and traveling with her husband who owns an antique toy business, “Toys Around the Clock.”

“I just feel so much better when I am active – mentally, physically and emotionally,” she said.

Paula Cryer, 61, also likes being active. She said she’s always been active on and off, but never really ran in races or at distances like she’s running now. Cryer runs to eat and likes the feeling of accomplishment, she said.

“Nothing compares to the feeling you have after a run,” she explained.

Her health also is very important to her, and she loves the outdoors. Her first half marathon was the Lady Speed Stick Women’s Half Marathon in St. Petersburg in 2012. Since then, she has done the Iron Girl Half Marathon, Holiday Half Marathon in Madeira Beach, various 5Ks and a 15K. She even did a 5K with her grandson.

She plans on running in a 10K in a couple of weeks and a half marathon with her family in Chicago in the summer.

Cryer signed up to train with the FAB 50 on a dare, she said. When she finished her first half marathon she felt like Superwoman.

“I continue because I am still able and because it makes me feel the healthiest I can be and I have made real friendships,” she said.

Cryer owns a business in Largo with her husband, the Minuteman Press. She said she originally thought the running would be for networking but that wasn’t what it was all about. It was teaming up with like-minded women that she would have never met any other way.

She encourages other women to find a way to become active.

“The only thing I can say is, why not? What alternative is there? I want to be as healthy as I can be to live as fully as I can for as long as I am allowed!” she said.

All three women agreed that when they run and compete in a race there is a feeling that can’t be described and something they never would have known until they tried it.

Now, they are hooked.
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