When people celebrate their 65th birthday, they typically make some changes in their life, like taking up a new hobby. Some people dive into gardening, some research their family tree, and some travel. Marjie Conry did something a little less typical. She started running marathons.
“Oh no,” laughs Conry. “Half marathons, just half marathons. I haven’t gotten up the nerve to do a full marathon yet.”
Now 75, Conry, who lives at Peace Village Senior Living community in Palos Park, ran in the Village’s Fun Run benefiting Lora’s Fund on Saturday, May 20th. Conry has lived in the senior neighborhood for about eight months, but she’s already become something of a celebrity because of her running. “I love looking out of my window and seeing her running on our path,” says Liz Sieben of the Sales and Marketing team. “I always tell her, I aspire to be her when I am that age, but actually, I aspire to be her now at my age. She is a pretty remarkable person.”
Conry has been defying norms for quite a while. She was born and raised in Pittsburgh and earned a degree at Adrian College in Michigan. A member of the catalog and retail Spiegel family offered her a job, so Conry packed her bags, moved to Chicago and trained in computer programming. She became one of the very first female Computer System Analyst at the Federal Reserve in Chicago and, because her salary and benefits were better, her husband Richard stayed home with their three children. “He got involved with Market Day at the school because he could lift the heavy boxes,” Conry chuckles. While Richard sometimes questioned his life path, Conry says, “He definitely did it right. The kids all turned out really good, so he did a great job.”
Conry says that she began running because of her daughter Heather Conry – and out of boredom. “My daughter was a dancer for over seventeen years, and when she stopped doing that, she needed something to stay active so she tried running. She couldn’t find anyone to go with her to a Brookfield Zoo run, so she asked me to go and then do the zoo after the run. It was just 3 miles, but I told her “I don’t run but I can walk while you run.” The next time she asked me along was to go to Disneyworld to do the Wine & Dine Half Marathon. I sat around for 4 hours waiting for her. After we got home, she said she wanted to go back and do another run. I told her “I’m not sitting around next time. I’ll do it with you.”
Conry looked into the Run-Walk-Run Method, created by Jeff Galloway, a former U.S. Olympic athlete. Galloway had developed the technique to help new runners train build up distance without injury. After a warm up, Run-Walk-Run users run for three minutes, followed by 30 seconds of walking. Runners then repeat that pattern until the end of the race. This method has been very successful in helping runners, both new and experienced, increase their distance without incurring injuries.
Conry completed her first half marathon, sponsored by Running For Kicks in Palos Heights, by using the Run-Walk-Run method in 2011.
“When Heather and I went back to Disney for the next Wine & Dine, we noticed people doing the half-marathon, and then doing a 5K immediately following. We thought, “These people are crazy,” then next year, we became the crazy people,” she laughs.
Running has strengthened the bond between mother and daughter too. “I just think it’s fun to spend this time with her,” says Conry. “We also train together. For the races, we love to dress up. We wear themed shirts and sparkly skirts.” She also loves to match her sunglasses to her running outfit.
Conry recently arrived back at Peace Village from another weekend in Disney, completing a 5K, 10K and a 10-mile run over a weekend. “We do that one every year now.” Conry has completed races at the University of Illinois, the Santa Hustle and New Year’s Eve 5K; she has competed in Florida and California. She’s also completed the ChiTown Half Marathon, the Chicago Half Marathon, the Soldier Field Memorial Run and the Chicago Bank of America Half Marathon. She also generously sprinkles in 5k and 10k races whenever she can, collecting dozens of medals as she runs. “It’s all about the medals,” Conry jokes. “We love the medals.”
Her move to Peace Village came after recovering from an injury at her daughter’s home. “I thought I had just turned my ankle walking down the stairs after the Spring Surprise run, but I had a CT scan and an MRI and it turns out I had fractured my foot. I spent three months at Heather’s house, thinking how I didn’t want to spend quite so much time on a couch again. When I got back on my feet, I made an appointment at Peace. I really liked the place. It’s close to Jewel, and my cardiologist, to gas stations and the bank. I saw an apartment with two bedrooms and French doors that I wanted in independent living. I was really impressed.”
The grounds of Peace Village are also a bonus. A well-kept paved path meanders the property that features three ponds and an island gazebo and is lushly landscaped. “I run six times around the path at Peace Village every day, which gets me about four miles,” Conry says.
When Conry heard about Peace Village’s Fun Run at a resident meeting, she signed up immediately. The Fun Run is a fundraiser to benefit Lora’s Fund, which helps residents stay in their Peace Village home when they outlive their financial resources. The benevolent fund is named for Lora Contorno who served as Peace Village’s Resident Support Coordinator until her diagnosis with metastatic melanoma in November 2016.
Lora’s husband Jim, who now serves as the Life Enrichment Coordinator at the Village, says “Lora made sure that every resident had exactly what they needed physically, mentally and spiritually to not only be happy here, but to thrive. She would communicate honestly and was insightful; she knew something would happen before it did and she could head it off. I’ve always thought Lora would be so honored [by the naming of the fund after her] and so happy to know the impact she had on other people. She did not realize how important she was to other people.”
Conry says running for Lora’s Fund is important. “This fund is important because it helps the Village, and the Village helps me. I’m an extreme introvert but the Village helps me become more social. I definitely felt welcomed. I participate in the crochet and needlework group, resident meetings, the social hours, the special dinners. Everyone is so friendly and nice. I am really, really happy with my decision to move here.”
Conry was indeed wearing a sparkly skirt and matching sunglasses as she lined up as part of the 5K runner group, the first off the line. However, her daughter was missing.
“Well,” said Conry, “Heather isn’t here today. She’s downtown picking up our packets, because we’re running the Chicago Half Marathon tomorrow.”
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