Tylerite Harold Wilson turns 81 on Friday — 17 days before he’ll run in the Boston Marathon for the eighth time.
An avid runner and health-conscious senior, he’s the epitome of “active aging.” His thin frame often is seen running from his home in southern Tyler to Faulkner Park or with fellow runners of East Texas Striders.
Wilson hasn’t always been healthy.
At 54, he got a wakeup call. He weighed nearly 200 pounds and his cholesterol was dangerously high as a result of eating too many fried foods and sweets. One of his arteries was 50 percent blocked.
Then he discovered running.
“It takes a little bit of commitment to continue to do it (run regularly) but if you do it six months then you will stick with it,” he said. “You’ve got to start slow and build and then you’ll stay with it.”
Wilson is proof that people can improve their health. He has conquered more than 16 marathons and will return to the Boston Marathon. Last year, he was the only 80-year-old to finish the race before two bombs near the finish line exploded, killing three and wounding nearly 260.
Last year’s bombings canceled the awards ceremony in which he would have been recognized on the podium.
“I don’t want the terrorists (who planted the bombs) to defeat me,” he said. “I’ll go back one more time.”
Wilson will be a panelist during the Alzheimer’s Alliance of Smith County’s conference on active aging. Set for April 11, the “Age of Champions” conference will focus on active seniors and offer strategies to help people prevent illness and improve brain health as they age.
Wilson said his fitness regimen is simple. He eats healthy foods and regularly exercises.
“Your diet is real important and (so is) rest. The big thing in being able to do what I do is in the genes,” he said, naming family members who lived a long life.
Nora Gravois, the Alzheimer Alliance’s program director, says Wilson is the example to follow. “His continued commitment and passion for physical health and volunteering, staying involved in the community, being an inspiration for running in the Boston Marathon. All of that is a perfect example of a champion.”
The conference will open with the documentary “Age of Champions,” which showcases participants in the Senior Olympics who enjoy life.
“So many times when we think about aging, we think about the struggles of aging — the challenge of aging,” Mrs. Gravois said. “Instead of focusing on ill health, we try to focus on positive health, preventive health.”
Gravois said many studies have found links between brain health and physical health.
“One of the links that has been discovered as a result of research in Alzheimer’s (disease) and dementia is the connection to overall cardiovascular health,” she said.
Among topics at the conference will be the importance of nutrition, socialization, mental stimulation, physical activity and spirituality in preserving health and preventing memory loss as we age.