Ladies and gentlemen, are you looking for a role model? You don't have far to look. She's in your backyard.
When it comes to persistence, determination and dedication, there are very few who match, or even come close, to the traits Kathy "Rat" Waldron displays.
Although her childhood nickname, imposed on her at the age of 5 by an older sister, belies her character. You'll never meet a rat that can keep up with this 50-plus phenomenon.
When her name appeared as the women's overall winner in a local two-mile race, officials and timers questioned whether the results were correct. How could a 51-year-old possibly take the top spot over all the high school and collegiate athletes in the race?
Over the past four decades, this lady with the funny nickname has done just that: surprised many people with her talent for running fast and far, from two-milers to marathons and beyond throughout the Midwest.
Waldron was a middle distance running standout in high school in Brillion, Wisconsin. Specializing in the 880-yard and mile runs, she qualified for state and, in 1975, won the one-mile run with a time of 5 minutes 18.7 seconds At the time, Brillion High School didn't even have a track.
In 1992, she ran the Boston Marathon with her father, Les. He was also an avid runner, distinguished member of the community and a strong proponent of an active lifestyle. He passed away soon after that marathon. In his memory, Waldron has returned to Boston. In fact, next April she will make her 20th consecutive appearance at the starting line in Hopkinton, Massachusetts.
This past fall, online registration for the 2011 Boston Marathon filled to capacity in just 8 hours. So Waldron, without computer access at the time, was elated when her son, Nicholas, entered her and let her know she had a confirmed entry. However, due to a computer glitch, Waldron's name disappeared as quickly as a snowflake hitting warm pavement.
Frantic to keep her streak going, Waldron sent several e-mails and a friend called someone who knew someone. Eventually, Waldron's name magically reappeared on the list of 2011 Boston Marathon entrants.
In 2010, Waldron ran eight marathons and placed first in her age division in five of them. In Boston last year, she ran a 3:37:49 and placed 50th in her age group, despite not feeling well after driving her pickup truck from Wisconsin to the Bay State for the race.
Her performance in Boston last year was no indication of what this spry 5-foot-2 3/4-inch powerhouse was capable of. She ran 3:25:24 and placed eighth in her first appearance there as a senior runner in 2009.
The following month she ran the inaugural Great Midwest Marathon in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Temperatures in the 90s scared many entrants away from the start line, but Waldron was not among them. At times she was reduced to walking the hilly asphalt roads of Sheboygan County, but she finished.
After reviving herself under a lawn sprinkler, she jogged to her trusty truck and headed for her afternoon shift as a medical transcriptionist.
She didn't notice she had been given a half marathon finisher's medal. Race officials assumed she had run the shorter race, which started two hours later than the marathon, figuring she could not have run the time she did in such horrendous heat. Eventually, the results were straightened out and she was given a new finisher's medal and awarded for being the first female finisher overall.
In 2009, Waldron gave triathlon a try and had a successful season. Not a proficient swimmer, she had to rely on her talent as a runner and hope she could stay in the mix on her off-the-rack bike. While others made use of expensive bikes and gear, Waldron primarily relied on hard work, determination and courage.
Once she completed the swim and bike legs of the event, she unleashed her competitive running speed. Her goal going into the Midwest Sports Events Series was not to win each race, but to win the series by being consistently in the top in her age group. And with determination etched on her face as captured by event photographers, she did indeed capture the series title for women 50-plus.
By fall 2010, she had returned to marathoning. In fact, she ran three in a span of six weeks: The Fox Cities Marathon in 3:23:17; Milwaukee's Lakefront Marathon, which she had won in 2001, in 3:24:35; and the Grand Rapids Marathon, sleeping just two hours in her truck before running a 3:27:38. She took home the Senior Masters title in each of these races.
She finished off the year with another cross-country drive to the Baton Rouge Marathon, which she ran in 3:28:58 and once again won in the 50-plus category.
In one of the few races in which she did not win her age group she was outpaced by Joan Benoit Samuelson, Olympic Gold Medalist and two-time winner of the Boston Marathon. To Samuelson, the current 50-54 American record-holder at many distances, Waldron placed a respectable second. Afterward, Waldron commented that "Joanie was remarkable."
Now that you know a little bit more about Rat, you might be making the same comment about her: remarkable.
Roy Pirrung, of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, has run 111 marathons and 160 ultramarathons, is a member of USA Track and Field’s Masters Hall of Fame, and has been named USATF’s Ultrarunner of the Year and masters Ultrarunner of the Year four times. He currently holds the 24-hour world record, nearly 60 American records and 63 national championship titles, and has been a member of the 24-hour national team nine times and served as the team manager.