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Staying young through fitness: On the fly

Middle age is no time to fold camp when it comes to fitness.

Two teachers at the junior high are examples of healthy living through exercise. They may be extreme cases, but they are not fanatical -- just committed.

Wendy Nelsen and Sue Thell have followed different paths, but meet at the finish line.

Nelsen, 55, ran her fourth marathon on Sunday, from Minneapolis to the capitol in St. Paul. Despite rain and soggy shoes, her time of 4:18 was only three minutes short of her target that would have qualified her for the Boston Marathon (her all-time best is 3:37 at Duluth in 1983). The mother of two grown children follows a vigorous program of running and biking.

Thell, 50, is one of the town's most adventurous souls. She's climbed Kilimanjaro, hiked in Antarctica, rode a bike border-to-border both west to east and south to north in the United States, trekked in Africa and South America multiple times, and this summer, rode her bike down the Oregon coastal highway and on to San Francisco.

The guided adventure trips may not put her in a class with cold-weather explorer Anne Bancroft, but Thell has tested her own envelope of endurance.

"I came up with the idea for a 'Big 5' from the (camera) safaris I have done in Africa where the Big 5 is the hardest five animals to shoot (with a gun)," stated Thell, who is a petite 110 pounds.

Thell's five challenges --_ now in her personal record book -- were Grandma's Marathon (June 16, 2001), Morris Tin Man Triathlon (one-mile swim, 25-mile bike, 10k run on April 27, 2002), North Shore Inline Skate Marathon (Sept. 18, 2005), Lakeville 100-mile Ironman Bike Ride (April 29, 2007) and the 33-mile Birkebeiner Cross-Country Ski Race (Feb. 23, 2008). She had a training plan for each.

The Birkie's rollercoaster trail was brutal, though she finished strong. "I'd done the Vasaloppet at Mora, but had never skied hills before. My boyfriend worked with me one hour the weekend before on how to ski hills," she recalls. "I prayed a lot going down the hills, but near the end I felt great."

Both Nelsen and Thell missed out on Title IV opportunities. Thell, who grew up here, was inclined toward fine arts, though she thinks she would be in school sports if she were young again. Nelsen, who grew up in Litchfield and went to South Dakota State, started running competitively in 1980 at a 10k in Morris.

"Something clicked when I started running," she said. "I liked competing. (The training) is a good lifestyle. I think it just leads to healthier living."

She's run all 14 Foot Lake 4s and has won her age class nearly every time.

Nelsen trains six days a week, mixing running and bike riding. She and her husband, Guy, live on a county road near Svea, but she prefers training on the Glacial Lakes State Trail or the trail around Green Lake.

On the fly

n Stock car racing supporter Faith Wilson will be recognized this Saturday evening at KRA Appreciation/NASCAR Night at the Epicenter behind Hennen's Furniture on South U.S. Highway 71. Wilson drives her red Ed's Service Center tow truck at the Thursday night races. She also raises purse money from over 80 sponsors region wide for the annual Ed Wilson Super Stock Special in August. Faith continues to manage the garage, tow truck and small-engine business on Gorton Avenue after the death of her husband. Pizza, pop and hot dogs are free with jumbo screens carrying the NASCAR race.

n The Lutz brothers are both coaching football at the Class AAAAA level. Andy is a ninth-year assistant coach (quarterbacks, special teams) at Hastings, where he is also assistant boys basketball and Fellowship of Christian Athletes advisor. David is in his second year with the varsity staff at Wayzata, considered a contender for the state title.

n Greta King is seeing action for Concordia (Moorhead) at outside hitter in her first season. In 19 games over nine matches, she's averaging just under two kills per game.

n Gustavus Adolphus College junior Derek Hilding tied for 36th with a best-round of 74 at the three-day MIAC Championships at Bunker Hills. The Gusties were runners-up to St. John's.