77-Year-Old Steve Gilbert Runs the Boston Marathon

Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photographer / Whitney Moore

Steve Gilbert lived a rather sedentary life until 2004, when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at age 64. In 2007, he got involved with Rock Steady Boxing, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit gym, because research has found that forced, intense exercise slows the progression of Parkinson’s.Parkinson’s disease

“I’ll never forget the first time my Rock Steady coach said, ‘Steve, you can do this,’ and I found I could,” says Gilbert, who went on to challenge himself in other ways, too. When his brother, Bruce, a longtime runner, came to town to run the Geist Half Marathon, Gilbert said, “I can do that!” And he did. He went on to participate in a number of other races including 10Ks, minis and full marathons.

This year, Gilbert qualified under a neurological exception to run the Boston Marathon, making the 77-year-old one of the oldest runners at the prestigious race. Other running legends there included Bob Kennedy, Amby Burfoot and Bill Rodgers.

“There were 35,000 runners and only 20 were older than I am,” Gilbert says.Parkinson’s disease

Several years ago, Gilbert watched a documentary on the Boston Marathon. Halfway through the race, up in a yard full of spectators, a little boy was yelling, “Go, old guy in the blue shirt!”

“I thought how thrilling it would be to be the old guy in the blue shirt,” says Gilbert, who likes to travel, play golf, and hang out with his grandkids and great-grandkids.

“The thing about running is that the stopwatch and the yardstick are constants,” Gilbert says. “Having to gauge my fight against Parkinson’s, I’ve got a good yardstick over a dozen years that I can refer to now. Naturally, just by aging, I’m going to get slower, but if my age-graded results are comparable, maybe I’m making headway in keeping Parkinson’s at bay.”

Gilbert credits his continuing improvements at his age to what he calls “juvenile exuberance.”

“I set all my PRs the year I turned 70,” he says. “It’s been a fun game. I feel like a giddy teenager.”Parkinson’s disease

Years ago, doctors recommended drugs and rest to treat Parkinson’s, but the Study in Parkinson’s Disease of Exercise (SPARX) indicates that it’s beneficial for early-stage Parkinson’s patients to exercise at 80 to 85% of maximum heart rate three days a week, to improve neural connections in the brain and delay Parkinson’s progression.

Gilbert says he runs not only for his own well-being, but also to be an example for others facing challenges in life. He is inspired by his wife, Donna, his family, his Cyntheanne Christian Church family, Matt Ebersole with Personal Best Training, Fishers Running Club, other Rock Steady boxers, and anyone who perseveres through challenges.

“All these people play an important role in maintaining my momentum,” says Gilbert, noting that he’s glad he has not suffered from depression, which frequently afflicts Parkinson’s patients. “I’ve not let Parkinson’s define me. Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox both said, ‘Don’t pity me,’ and I feel the same. I’ve had a good life.”

Comments 1

  1. Jayne Rains says:

    Hello, fellow BSU alum. I am reaching out on behalf of Parkinson’s Support Group of East Central Indiana, meeting at Riverside Avenue Baptist Church since 1994. My husband Randy diagnosed PD late summer 2004, DBS with Dr Witt January 2015, neurologist Dr Joanne. Our group read about you in winter edition BSU Alumnus. We meet second Thursday each month, 3 PM, Riverside Avenue Baptist Church. As Connie, RSB chief scientific officer stated, Muncie is a RSB desert. My sources tell me that may soon come to an end. You are always welcome to attend one of our group meetings, you will find BSU connections. You can reach me at jaynerains@gmail.com or 765-730-1243.

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