OCEANSIDE — After losing her husband Jack to Alzheimer’s disease in January, Anne Garrett filled the void by continuing to train as a runner. Three months later, in April, she broke the American record for the half marathon at the Carlsbad 5000 (for her age group). She was 77.
Garrett’s life changed dramatically as she became a media darling, appearing in newspapers, television and online.
“People come up to tell me that I am an inspiration,” she said smiling. “I don’t think I am, but it makes me feel good to know that I might be helping someone continue to do whatever it is they want to do.”
Garrett was born in 1934, and raised in a small village in Northern Ireland where she said she walked everywhere out of necessity, not because she necessarily enjoyed it.
She and Jack met in 1956. Both worked for Harland and Wolff, shipbuilders best known for building the Titanic.
“We had a mutual friend who asked each of us to a dance,” Garrett recalled. “We danced every dance after that (for 55 years).”
After they married, Jack continued to work at sea as an engineer and eventually was assigned to the Queen Mary. With their two girls, Jayne and Joanne, they moved to California after Jack brought the ship to its finally destination in Long Beach in December 1967.
Garrett got into competitive racing 16 years ago when Jayne, a runner, suggested she walk in a race as something they could do together.
“I got absolutely hooked,” Garrett remembered. “I liked the competitive spirit and thought I would like to do a half marathon.”
Only 5 foot 1 inch and 90 pounds, she began training, and eventually started working with race walker Sloan Zsiros.
“I was 65 by this time and I walked a marathon in 5 hours and 19 minutes,” she said. “That was my only marathon. I stuck to half marathons.”
After the marathon, Zsiros started her own group, Walk This Way. Garrett served as an assistant coach. Sloan introduced Garrett to Karen Evans, a race walker and runner.
“One day Karen said that she wanted to give me a GPS that she didn’t need any more,” Garrett said. “It was the day before my 72nd birthday, which was also the day of the 2006 Surf City Half Marathon in Huntington Beach.”
Instead of race walking Garrett decided to run.
“I started off running and felt good and I looked at the GPS and my pace was good,” she recalled. “I ran the whole thing and came in first in my age group (70-74). From then on, every race I did I came in first.”
With all her success, Garrett continued to serve as caregiver for Jack as his health deteriorated.
“It was my stress relief when I’d run along Carlsbad Boulevard for 5 miles in the morning,” she said. “When I’m home again, I’m ready for anything.”
Garrett would awaken Jack and bathe, dress and feed him. Then she’d take him out for a 3-mile walk on Carlsbad Boulevard. Sometimes on Saturdays she’d run 10 miles, then walk with Jack for 6 more.
“What Garrett went through with Jack represented years of dedication,” said Evans, who continues to run with Garrett twice a week. “We should all be as lucky as Jack to have someone there until the end.”
After Jack’s death, Garrett was recruited for the women’s masters group of the San Diego Track Club, and the USAA Track and Field Club.
On Feb. 5 of this year, her 77th birthday, she competed in the USATF Cross Country Champions in San Diego. She received three medals: one for the team, one for her individual age group (75-79), and one for placing second in age grading.
Garrett also hopes to pass along her passion for running to younger generations. She enjoys encouraging children to exercise through the Move Your Feet Before You Eat! Foundation. For the next few weeks she’ll be talking to students at Oceanside and Vista schools.
“Life is what you make it,” Garrett said. “I had a very good husband, a sound marriage and two wonderful children. I am fortunate to still be able to run along the coast, and watch the waves and the birds. Life doesn’t get much better than that.”