A combination of LeBron James and Steph Curry—that’s what 89-year-old Jane Ensign said she felt like as she crossed the finish line of a 1-mile race on Memorial Day. “Everybody was cheering for me, I’ve never had any such thing happen,” Ensign continued. “I felt like I was the queen of the race, like Queen Elizabeth. I tried to give the royal wave. I thought, ‘I’ll never have this happen to me again, I’m going to take advantage of it.’”
Monday’s running of the Chattanooga Chase in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was not the first for Ensign. Her running career began at age 84 when her son, Tim, now 54, was preparing to run a mile race. Back then, her grandchildren, Tim’s kids, had high hopes that their granny would break a state record based on age.
“The oldest person to have a state record had been 82, so they said, ‘If Grandma runs the mile, she’ll get a record.’ So, she entered her first race on a lark and did it,” he said. “She was last place but had a great time doing it.”
Tim stated he wasn’t sure if his mother would participate this year after falling and breaking her wrist in February, but in late April, thoughts of the race began swirling in her mind. Tim told her she’d better start training.
“She does her daily walks and times herself on the oven clock,” Tim said. “It’s sophisticated analytics.”
Ensign isn’t alone on her annual one-mile trek. Tim’s youngest daughter, Erin, a seventh grader, has walked with Ensign each year, offering motivation throughout the race.
“She’s a wonderful help—she’s not a runner, she’s a tennis player, so we are not competitors.”
This year, as Erin encouraged Ensign to power through the finish, Ensign wanted to run.
“The walker started rolling and I started running,” she said. But soon, her other son, Pete, 49, grabbed her hand and slowed her down.
Crossing the finish line of this year’s race was a great relief, Ensign pointed out, and with the crowd’s energy, she couldn’t help but feel happy. Her official finishing time? 26:09.
She tried a different race in the past, but prefers to sticks to this one because the whole neighborhood participates—if they aren’t running, they are cheering.
Ensign became a bit of a local celebrity after the race. Neighborhood kids told her she’s setting a good example and friends from church called with congratulations.
“But it’s not like I’d won a marathon or something,” Ensign said.
She’s not sure if she’ll run next year, because “90 is getting up there,” but she remains an inspiration to her family and the community. Tim said he never thought his mother would be competing, and that it’s cool to see her racing at this age. She has a nice spirit about her, he said.
In April, Tim made a record of his own by running a sub-five-minute mile for the 40th consecutive year, something he began consciously keeping track of when he was in his thirties.
“I seemed to lose a second or two every year,” Tim said, and it took four attempts to finally break the five-minute mark this year, but he did it in April with two stopwatches clocking him at 4:59.9.
Both mother and son are dubious as to whether they will continue their running feats for another year.
“She maintains it’s going to be her last year,” Tim added. “But now everyone in the neighborhood is always asking me, ‘Is your mom running again?’ She can’t quit on 89.”