‘Grandma Spitball,’ 81, says she runs half-marathon to keep in shape


Grandma Spitball jogged across the half-marathon finish line with plenty of extra breath to talk about how much she enjoys running.

Her real name is Else Jespersen, she’s 81 and lives in Courtenay. She turns 82 on Nov. 5.

Dressed in a bright yellow tutu for Sunday’s GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon, she was backed up by a group of family members, including a great-grandson, decked out in the yellow-and-black team colours.

This is their ninth family race and the family team is already planning to be here next year for their 10th.

“It keeps me in shape,” Jespersen said.

She earned the name Grandma Spitball after a run when she said, “I’m just as fast as a spitball.”

Exercise is a regular part of her life. She runs at least twice a week, climbs 1,000 steps per week, takes walking poles out to walk. She joked, “I was thinking of doing pole dancing.”

Her daughter Ann Nygren, also of Courtenay, said her mother is amazing. “You can’t be any prouder.”

The real bonus is the time they spend together when they meet up to exercise, Nygren said.

Rain held off for the race. Bits of blue sky poked through the clouds by 8:30 a.m. and by mid-morning, sun beamed down.

For many participants, the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon and its related events is a family occasion. It’s a testament to an individual’s determination and spectators saw countless expressions of love and caring.

Old and young turned out. Some sprinted across the finish line looking as though they barely broke a sweat. Others barely made it, their legs shook and they held on to someone else for support after completing their run.

Everywhere there was someone to help, to praise, to offer first aid or a massage, a warm silver blanket, to take a photograph, and hand out food and refreshments.

Spectators lined the approach to the finish line to cheer on people they know and strangers.

A masterful announcer reeled off names and statistics and hometowns of runners, as well as other facts such as the number of times they’d run their race.

Along the race route, resident stood outside their homes to cheer.

Calgary resident Paul Rees rushed to take photos of girlfriend Catherine Stone as she crossed the finish. They are staying with family here and then are off to Jamaica for a holiday.

Deven Azevedo, 21, of Fort Langley, finished his first half-marathon. His original plan to run a marathon was stymied by an injury but he’s looking forward to returning next year to carry out his goal.

The Simon Fraser University economics student was among a dozen people running together, including his girlfriend, parents, sister, and uncle. “It was great,” he said, adding that supportive Victorians, “helped me run my best.”

Amina Bunjaku, five, of View Royal, jumped around with excitement before the children’s race. “I have never done this before but I really wanted to.”

She pointed to her white running shoes. “These shoes make me fast.”

Joyanne Longmore, of View Royal, ran eight kilometres and then lined up children Ali, six, and Ben, eight, for the children’s race. “The weather is perfect. Everybody was cheering you on.” The distance was not an issue; she and husband James Cook run triathlons as well and enjoy plenty of outdoor activities with their kids.

Lin Hopkins, 64, would have liked to have finished the race in quicker time, saying, “I’m disappointed in my time — it’s the competitive instinct in me.” But she had been unwell and was unable to train the previous two weeks.

Hopkins is a member of the Sole Sisters running group. Coach Mena Westhaver calls Hopkins “awesome,” saying that she did her first half marathon at age 60.

“She is an inspiration to all of us,” Westhaver said.

© Copyright Times Colonist

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