Margaret Hagerty is in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the oldest person to complete a marathon on each of the seven continents.
“I’m right next to John Glenn,” she said. “He’s the oldest person to travel in space.”
While some may think the 90-year-old has been a professional runner since birth, she actually picked up the cardio exercise late in life — at age 64.
At the time, she had attended a clinic for individuals interested in quitting smoking, and the very next morning she laced up her running shoes and went for her first run.
“I looked like an intoxicated orangutan,” she said laughingly.
While she didn’t get too far, she promised herself she would go again the next day, running a little longer each time she ventured outside.
Hagerty vowed to run every day, getting up as early at 6 a.m. during the summer months to beat the heat.
Because this year’s winter season has kept her indoors, running mostly on a treadmill, she hasn’t been training outside as often as she would like, but her enthusiasm and drive remain strong.
“I’m a fierce competitor,” she said. “I try to go often enough to stay in shape and feel good.”
She credited her ability to run so easily so late in life with the fact that she had already been playing golf throughout the week.
The same year she quit smoking, she also ran her first race.
Ironically, it took place at a Phillip Morris cigarette plant.
Not only was she trying to avoid the temptation for nicotine, she said, but she was also working hard to finish the race held in 24-degree weather.
“I could see the finish line,” she said, “and I just kept on going and thought I was never going to get there.”
It wasn’t long before she entered her first marathon at age 66 in Greensboro.
She said she used the race as preparation for the New York Marathon, which she and a friend from her Salisbury Running Club later opted to complete together.
One of her most memorable marathons took place in Antarctica in 1999. Due to the extreme frigid temperatures, she was forced to wear three thick layers of clothing.
Hagerty even wrapped plastic bread bags over her wool socks to ensure her feet stayed dry during the long-distance journey.
During her 70s, she traveled to Buffalo, N.Y., for the World Games.
Similar to the Olympic Games, the international event is governed by the International World Games Association (IWGA).
Hagerty participated in a number of track events and the marathon run at the Games, taking home the top prize in her age group the second day she competed.
“The Canadians and the Germans blew me off the track,” she said, “but the next day I won the marathon — the biggest surprise of my life.”
Throughout the Concord resident’s more than 25 years of engaging in the sport, she has completed 80 marathons and a number of other races of varying lengths.
However, an accident in 2008 placed her on bed rest for nearly nine months and ended her marathon career.
A cyclist ran over her legs and knocked her to the ground while she was training one day on an area greenway, she said.
After being away from the sport for so long in order to save her leg, she said, Hagerty doesn’t believe she will ever run another marathon.
“I haven’t gotten back and never will because of my age,” she said, “but I still love to compete.”
However, she still plans to run as often as she can, completing shorter distances and reflecting on the numerous achievements she’s made during her career.
“I’m slow, but I can keep on going,” Hagerty noted. “I’ve got two feet and two legs…and I’m enjoying continuing to participate.”
In addition to setting a world record, she has won numerous medals at the local, state and national level of the annual North Carolina Senior Games.
She was additionally named the third best runner in the nation in 2012 for her age group at the time, 85-89.
She received the honor from USA Track & Field, the “National Governing body for track and field, long-distance running and race-walking” in the country, according to the website usatf.org.
Hagerty is currently focused on setting new running records in North Carolina.
The next race on her schedule is East Lincoln High School’s Valentine’s 5K at Cowan’s Ford Golf Club.
She learned about the Lincoln County event at a local race over the holidays. East Lincoln’s men’s cross-country and women’s track and field coach Melvin Morrison, also at the event, invited Hagerty to participate in the Valentine’s race, which, due to snow, had to be rescheduled from this Saturday to Feb. 22.
“She carries the torch for all moms and people of all ages to never say you are too old to start and have a level of fitness,” Morrison said in a race press release.
Hagerty will be just one of two “celebrity” runners at the event.
Former Olympic athlete Anthony Famiglietti is also set to run, Morrison said.
Famiglietti participated in both the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, and the 2008 event in Beijing, China.
The Davidson resident has also visited the East Lincoln cross-country and track teams different times over the last six months, particularly encouraging the Lady Mustangs before this school year’s state competition.
“He has a great story and is an inspiration to our kids,” Morrison said.
The Valentine’s 5K will be 9:30 a.m. Feb. 22 followed by a Fun Run at 10:15 a.m. at Cowan’s Ford Golf Club in Stanley.
Cost is $25 for individual runners and $45 for couples. The first $200 to register will receive a free T-shirt.
To register for the Valentine’s 5K, visit denvernc.com/valentine5K.
For more information, email Melvin Morrison at email@example.com.