Pleasant Ridge – Like any runner, when Ann Steylen met a daunting hill during a race, she had to dig deeper.
“(I was) the little train that could – ‘I think I can, I think I can’. I used to read it to my kids. That’s what I kept thinking.”
But Steylen isn’t like most runners. She’s 85-years-old.
Not only did she tackle the hill (in the pouring rain) in the 10 K run of the Blue Nose Marathon last Sunday in Halifax, she placed first in her age division with a time of 2:36:08.
Steylen proudly shows off a new addition to her set of keys – a pewter keychain with a small “1st”, which dangles above the name “Blue Nose Marathon” – her award for placing first in her division.
Visited in her home in Pleasant Ridge, the self-sufficient Steylen is tucked away in her own little corner of paradise; a farmhouse where the breathtaking view of rolling hills stretches for miles.
“I just figure if I can encourage people to keep exercising, if their body says they can do it, they can do it. Any type of exercise you can do to keep you moving, because if you don’t use it, you lose it and I really agree with that.” – Ann Steylen
An upstairs room in her centuries-old house (where the exposed hand-hewn beams are equally as striking as the view) is dedicated to her races, where newspaper clippings, bib tags, and medals of past events adorn the walls.
Among the memories strategically hung with tacks, is a Boston Marathon poster, from when her daughter, Suzette Narbonne, now of Sechelt, B.C., competed in the Holy Grail of marathons.
While Steylen’s always been active, she said it was Narbonne, an avid runner, who ignited her love of the activity.
“I started later in life, I think it was in my 70s when I really started. (Narbonne) was running in Boston, said it would be healthy for me so she bought me a treadmill.”
Steylen crossed the finish line of the 10 K race Sunday with Narbonne and her son, Georges Narbonne.
“The day of the race we woke up to pouring rain, and Suzette said ‘mom can’t go out in this’ and I said ‘yes I can’,” Steylen said chuckling, and added the rain only made her more determined.
“I know I can breathe then because the air is nice and clean – that is a good sign for me. But it was just pouring. So (Narbonne and Georges) insisted on taking a taxi to the race so I wouldn’t be soaking wet to start with. They’re very protective,” Steylen laughed.
Though Steylen said the rain came and went during the race, the skies opened up just as she came to a hill nearing the end of the course.
“Right at the end, it was just a downpour, and I had to go up this hill in the downpour and I thought for a while I wasn’t going to make it,” Steylen recalled.
“But I just, I guess I was just determined to do it. My mother brought up six children on her own so I was taught not to give up.”
Steylen is also a mother of six, with 13 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. As a single mother, Steylen went to McMaster University to become a teacher, and graduated in 1971. She later worked as a teacher in Attawapiskat First Nation before moving to Charlotte County with her second husband.
Since Steylen became interested in running, she’s participated in numerous runs, and successfully completed two half-marathons.
But the road hasn’t always been an easy one. In her late 70s, she had to have heart surgery, and last spring, had to have a pacemaker put in. But Steylen said her determination to stay active never waivered.
Steylen registered for the 10 K race in January. In preparation, she walked her dog, Bear, everyday, and tackled a hill close to home when feeling up to it.
To make the journey home from the race last weekend, Steylen took a plane, and laughing, said her daughter told the pilot of her accomplishment.
“He was talking away like I was some sort of celebrity,” Steylen chuckled, and added she hoped she can inspire others to stay active.
“I just figure if I can encourage people to keep exercising, if their body says they can do it, they can do it. Any type of exercise you can do to keep you moving, because if you don’t use it, you lose it and I really agree with that.
“I also believe to laugh whenever you get a chance because it’s the cheapest medicine you can get.”
And Steylen’s not done yet – she’s already set her eyes on her next race – the Forever Young 8 k, to take place in Richmond, BC in September.