Hollidaysburg runner no stranger to roads

In a room in his home, Gary Rhodes keeps professional and recreational mementos accumulated over the years. A bearskin rug and animal trophies are evidence of successful hunts. Awards and items from Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School, where Rhodes taught science and retired after 32 years, and from Penn State Altoona, where he still teaches, adorn a desk and a wall.

On one wall hangs rows of plaques and medals. They were earned through participation in various races, ranging from 5Ks to marathons. The bottom rows are from triathlons. When his fingers brush against them, they clink together and make a sound reminiscent of windchimes.

“This is my life,” Rhodes said.

All told, he has competed in more than 730 events, including 91 marathons and 4 half-Iron Man triathlons, and placed in almost 670 of them.

Despite the high totals, Rhodes only began running extensively when he was 47 years old. Inspiration came after a triathlon at Glendale Lake. The event ended with a 10 kilometer run. He had always been in good shape from riding bikes and swimming. He figured conditioning from those activities would carry over to the running portion.

That was not the case, Rhodes said.

“If you don’t run, a 10K is a long, long way,” Rhodes said.

So he began running. By the time he was 50, he was able to run marathons. At 55, he was ranked 70th in the nation at that age for triathlon competition and competed in the national championships, placing third for his age.

Competition has taken him on the road: He’s done triathlons in seven states and marathons in 25. His wife, Carole, often accompanies him when he travels.

“I’m his biggest cheerleader,” she said.

Locally, Rhodes competes in the Hollidaysburg YMCA Race Series events. His most recent in the series, the Angie Gioiosa 4th of July Memorial Race, was his 730th total event. Hollidaysburg YMCA Executive Director Tom Kopriva said Rhodes was a runner before it was a popular activity and actively contributes to the positive energy at races.

“He’s an icon,” Kopriva said. “The people in the running community know who Gary Rhodes is.”

At 74 years old, Rhodes now deals with rheumatoid arthritis, which he said has slowed him considerably. He still recorded a time of 36 minutes at that race.

Despite the strenuous competitive schedule, Rhodes does not keep a strict diet. He eats a lot of meat and only drinks water during races, preferring coffee, tea, pop and juice any other time. Frozen dairy is a staple.

“I like ice cream,” Rhodes said. “I eat ice cream every night.”

There are various benefits to training and competing in races, Rhodes said. He can eat what he wants and promotes health.

Rhodes also likes the atmosphere and other competitors.

“You meet a lot of nice people,” he said.

The key to maintaining an active life is just to remain active by doing things most everyday, Rhodes said. He walks most places if he is able, including mileslong treks to campus for classes and to the grocery store. An avid gardener, he sometimes spends 8-10 hours a day tending his vegetables. He still hunts and fishes.

The arthritis has limited his ability to run outside of competition, but he still swims frequently.

“Just stay active, just keep moving,” Rhodes said. “Just do it.”

Rhodes has already been actively competing this year, having competed in 16 races. The pace will not slow down. He has six more triathlons planned for this year and a marathon in November.