It isn’t exactly accurate to say that DeEtte and Robert Andersen have slowed down. While they don’t run as quickly as they used to, now that both are in their 80s, the Plymouth couple still maintain a busy racing schedule — thanks to a zeal for running that hasn’t waned with age.
DeEtte, 80, and Robert, 81, have completed 10 Grandma’s Marathons, 10 Twin Cities Marathons and dozens of other races around the country since they took up the sport in their 50s. They are running in the National Senior Games this year for the first time. Though they did not finish Saturday’s 10K after DeEtte hyperextended her knee, Robert plans to run in Monday’s 5K at the State Fairgrounds, and DeEtte still hopes to participate.
When asked for their personal best times, they just laugh. Watching the clock isn’t the point for Robert, a retired surgeon, and DeEtte, a retired special-education teacher. It’s all about staying in it for the long haul.
“Too many people, when they start getting slower, they quit,” DeEtte said. “We’re not quitters.
“Particularly when you get to be our age, people are just retreating from life, unless you’re around people who are forward-thinking. The time doesn’t matter at all. What matters is being around positive people, being active, doing something you enjoy.”
The Andersens have been married for 58 years. Robert was on the track team at the University of Nebraska, but DeEtte never had participated in a sport until her husband began training for his first marathon in 1987.
Robert was doing 20-mile training runs on the Luce Line trail near their home, and DeEtte decided it didn’t look that difficult. Before she knew it, Robert had talked her into training for that fall’s Twin Cities Marathon.
“I did a half-marathon for my first race, and I was so scared, I didn’t know what to do,” DeEtte recalled. “He said, ‘Just put one foot in front of the other, and keep doing it for 13.1 miles.’ ”
That has remained their creed ever since. The Andersens have run in the New York City Marathon and the Bataan Memorial Death March marathon in New Mexico. The year they turned 65, they celebrated by running the Pikes Peak Marathon in Colorado; to commemorate a wedding anniversary, they did the Hood to Coast, a 198-mile relay race in Oregon.
The couple also have completed the Birkebeiner cross-country ski race 10 times and do long-distance biking. That cross-training — and knowing their bodies’ capabilities — prevents injuries and keeps their fitness regimen fun.
“It’s not about competition at our age,” Robert said. “It’s about fellowship and participation.”
The Andersens are well-known in the Minnesota running community as enthusiastic race volunteers as well as participants. DeEtte said she often hears people her age say they wish they could do what she and Robert do, and her response is always the same: You can.
“It’s never too late to start,” she said. “Just find something you enjoy doing. And don’t give up.”
Editor’s note: This begins a series of stories on the Senior Games.