Indomitable spirit of late starter inspires
If you are looking for an inspiring figure in running — and indeed in life — then Jerry LeVasseur fits the bill.
In 1944, at the age of six, he survived one of the deadliest fire disasters in US history.
His mother Marion was among the 168 who perished in the Hartfield Circus fire. LeVasseur suffered 25 per cent burns, that damaged his hands and presented challenges during his life.
“I was fortunate to have a lot of support. I have competed in several sports during my life but running competitively for almost 40 years has been special,” he said.
He took up running at 35, but did not compete in a race until he was 42. His fitness and speed quickly made him one of the leading age group athletes at many events.
When he was 48 he ran a best time of 17min 7sec for a 5K, and 35:27 for 10K. In his 50s, he achieved a 60:45 for 10 miles on a hilly course, and a half-marathon in 1hr 21min 10sec. Impressive times continued in his 60s and 70s, with a post-70 5K in 23:19, and a mile in 6:41.
Other highlights include being part of the 4x800 relay teams that broke the US and world indoor records in the over-70 and over-80 age divisions. He has also had podium finishes in the US National Senior Games, National Masters and the World Masters Games.
Now 81, he is tackling the Bermuda Triangle Challenge in what will be his sixth appearance at the Bermuda Marathon Weekend. He first competed in the January races 35 years ago.
He and his wife Arden have visited Bermuda about 14 times, and competed a total of 10 or 11 times in cross country races, relays and the race weekend. This includes the International Senior Games held on the island when, aged 57, he won five gold medals.
In last year’s Bermuda Marathon Weekend, LeVasseur won age division prizes in the 10K and half-marathon last year, and also completed the Triangle Challenge three years ago.
While health issues, including prostate cancer, have impacted his running in recent times, he continues to enjoy the camaraderie of the sport and helping others through volunteer coaching of athletes at Bowdoin College, and through his roles on the boards of running clubs, local and national senior games and the Maine USATF. At the most fundamental level it comes through simply offering kind words and friendship to those he meets.
LeVasseur said: “As we grow older we face physical challenges. We try to stay positive and face them head on.
“Many times I have helped others during a race to do their best as well as doing a little coaching. There is more satisfaction in helping others than any medal I have won. Another way to give back is to volunteer at a race; without volunteers there would not be a race.”
He added: “Being part of the running community I try to be an inspiration to others and hope they will realise it is about fitness, fun and fellowship and to keep moving as well as volunteering and helping others. My fitness and positive attitude have helped me with the cancer challenge. As Amby Burfoot said, runners don’t quit. We fade, we ‘hit the wall’, we’re sometimes reduced to a walk — but we keep on.”
After Bermuda, LeVasseur and his wife have more sporting challenges to look forward to, including the US National Senior Games in Albuquerque, where they are qualified in a number of events.