FIFTY AND FIT
Skydiving is how some people, including former President George H.W. Bush, celebrate birthday milestones.
La Grande's Elena Nightingale, who turned 50 Saturday, instead jumped into a pair of Nikes and ran 50 kilometers on the La Grande High School quarter-mile track. Nightingale ran 124 laps, or 31 miles.
"I wanted to achieve something on my 50th birthday,'' Nightingale said.
Things went fairly smoothly for close to 110 laps. Then fatigue clicked in.
"The last 15 laps were as hard as all the previous laps,'' Nightingale said.
Nightingale was buoyed on the last lap by about 10 family members and friends who ran with her.
"That was a real highlight, completing the last lap with the people who are most important in your life,'' Nightingale said.
Those who accompanied her included Nightingale's sister, Julie DeVercelly of San Diego.
"Having her family and friends run with her made it very special,'' DeVercelly said. "This is quite an accomplishment for anyone of any age.''
Nightingale started her run around 7:30 a.m. and finished at 3:30 p.m. She stopped periodically to ice her legs and took an hour break around noon.
"She looked strong the whole way,'' DeVercelly said.
The San Diego resident was initially concerned about her sister taking on such a herculean task. However, DeVercelly's fears were alleviated as soon as she saw Elena run.
The monotony of running around the track did not bother Nightingale.
"A lot of people think it (running on a track) is boring, but I don't,'' she said.
Nightingale had run 20 to 40 miles a week for three years in preparation for her feat. She normally runs 20 to 25 miles a week, much of it on a treadmill. Nightingale likes working out on a treadmill because she can control the difficulty level and "the weather is always good.''
Nightingale's husband, Craig, ran the first and last mile with her. But he did not consider running the entire distance.
"I told her, Â‘I'm older and wiser,''' Craig said.
Did he ever doubt that his wife would finish?
"Heck no,'' Craig said with a smile.
Elena Nightingale has served as a youth soccer coach for several years and last year was the La Grande High School junior varsity girls' soccer coach. She hopes her effort will inspire the soccer players she's coached and all athletes "to work toward their goals.''
Nightingale has no plans for celebrating her 60th birthday, but she is not closing the door on another fitness feat.
"Nine years from now I might think of something.''