By Ron Leir
Harrison’s Blanca Alvarez was sick with the flu the morning of the big race.
“But I decided to run anyway,” she said.
Still, Alvarez had something to brag about: Her time of 1:08:44.96 was good enough to place ninth in the top 10 among women in the 60-64 age category for the 38th annual running of the Essex County Cherry Blossom 10K event in Branch Brook Park. Belleville’s Piedad Sanchez, 61, ranked 10th in that category with a time of 1:09:10.52.
The USATF-sanctioned race drew more than 1,000 competitors from around the region and a portion of the proceeds went to Special Olympics. Rockaway’s Youssef Rochdi outpaced all male entries with a time of 32:11.63 and Elena Rozhko of Morristown led all women at 37:44.49.
Eighty-year-old Shirley Pettijohn of Chatham was the oldest woman to finish the race with a time of 1:43:34.31 and Nathaniel Firestone, 85, of Mountainside, was the oldest man to complete with a time of 1:09:17.47. Bayonne’s Joseph LaBruno, 82, was closest in age; he logged 1:15:36.05.
“I’m so happy I finished,” Alvarez said. “When I run, I feel better. My husband gives me great support.” Alvarez, 60, has been racing competitively since 2008 and, to stay in shape, runs an average of “30 to 35 miles” a week. “For women my age, I think it’s a privilege to run,” she said.
In her native Peru, Alvarez got used to running fast – but not on a track. She played for her high school soccer team.
She immigrated to the U.S., making Harrison her home in 1984, landing a job as a chemical dependency counselor. “I gained weight because I was working too much,” Alvarez said, so she went back to running.
“I always loved it,” she said. “Running is my passion.”
And she joined the Clifton Road Runners Club, whose web site lists it as the “home of the USATF-NJ 2nd Place Overall Club four years running, 2009-2012,” whose membership ranges “from kids to 80+-year-old[s]” and come from Clifton, Kearny, Lyndhurst, Nutley, Belleville, Bloomfield, Harrison, Rutherford, Passaic, Paterson, Wayne, Lincoln Park, Wallington, Toms River, Prospect Park, Elmwood Park “and many of the surrounding towns.”
Alvarez said her “best year” was 2009 “when I received medals in every race I entered, for all different distances.” That same year, she ran in the New York City Marathon, finishing with a time of 4:28.20. “I’m going to run again this year,” she said.
She logged a time of 5:06.24 in the 2012 Philadelphia Marathon, and she has participated in several races in Europe, too.
In her line of work, Alvarez said she uses her powers of persuasion to get people off their addiction. So, too, she uses her unabashed enthusiasm for running to inspire novices to follow her lead.
“I’m a great motivator,” she said.
Her strategy seems to be working. “Now my daughter is running and my 10-yearold grandson did his first 5K last year,” she said.
For a complete list of the race results for all participants, visit http://www.compuscore.com/cs2014/april/ cherry.htm.