Word & Image 

Samuel Stephens Jr., 82: Veteran, racquetball player, retired runner.

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In nearly three decades, Stephens ran more than 420 races in Central Virginia and logged more than 58,000 miles. That's like running twice around the Earth, plus a few victory laps.

When I retired from the Army [in 1972], I used to go to Byrd Park and run. Try to keep my weight down. Get exercise. I was at the park running one day, and this lady was running along with me. … She said, “Do you ever run in the local races?” I say, “No, I'm not good enough ….” She said, “Yes you are! We done did about seven miles and you not even breathing hard!”

She gave me an application for a race that Saturday at Eastgate Mall. I went out there and I ran that race. I enjoyed it so. After that I joined two different roadrunner clubs, and I used to go within a hundred miles and run every Saturday, run every weekend. During that time I got all these different trophies and things. … Every time somebody come visit me or something I would give them a trophy. So I got rid of a lot of them. You can pick out one, too, if you want to.

I was born in Evergreen, Ala. My father was a schoolteacher. … He got killed [in a car accident] when I was 9. And that thing hurt me even right now, hurt me today. He used to take me with him everywhere he went.

I got out of high school when I was 17, and I went into the Army. … They shipped me out to Japan. I did three years in Japan and then after that came back to the States … and then they shipped me off to Korea.

I was a combat engineer. I used to operate crane and shovel. We'd build a bridge and they'd blow it up and we had to build it back. … Vietnam, my first tour over there I was in Da Nang, I was assigned to the 3rd Marine Division. I was on special assignment, and my job was retrograde. … I had a special team from the Republic of China. They wasn't supposed to be there. This was a top-secret mission. And we would go out and gather up the damaged equipment. … They'd take five Jeeps, and make one good Jeep out of it. Them people were smart. They could put that stuff together.

I went to Vietnam twice. I was lucky to get back. I'm just blessed to be here, and I thank the good Lord every day. 'Cause a lot of my friends didn't make it back.

I worked 36 and a half years in the post office, and never was late and never missed a day the whole time I was working. … I just did it. Being in the military, one thing they teach you: Being on time. Time means so much.

I can't run. I can't run. But I still play racquetball. … I move slow, but I still can move.


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