Age no barrier at Great Columbia Crossing

<p>Richelle Jackson gets a big hug from her father Harold Mullins after he finished the Great Columbia Crossing Sunday. Despite a severe lung condition, the 80-year old Mullins finished the race.</p>

MEGLER?BRIDGE — Richelle Jackson of Raymond waited anxiously for her father, Harold Mullins, to come off the Astoria-Megler Bridge during Sunday’s Great Columbia Crossing.

He is 80, and has been diagnosed with a lung condition. So she was hoping he didn’t have any problems climbing the bridge’s main span that carries cars — or in this one day, runners and walkers — far above the shipping lane of the Columbia River.

She needn’t have worried.

“It was fantastic today, you couldn’t ask for better weather,” said Mullins after he crossed the finish line. “I feel good; I feel really good. My breathing is good. It is doing what you believe in that counts. If you believe it, you can do it. That’s what I’ve always thought.”

Mullins and other octogenarians and septuagenarians proved that old age is no barrier to participation, whether running or walking.

Jackson was delighted.

“He had such determination that he was going to do it! He had to prove it to himself that it didn’t matter what his age was, or even his health. It was his goal to get out and show others how important it is to exercise and get out of the house,” said Jackson.

Pacific County Treasurer Renee Gooden, Mullins’ other daughter, stood next to him, beaming. “I was a lot slower than my 80-year-old dad today,” she said.

A fine day

To be sure, the race did go to the swift, as Chad Trammell with his 33 minutes, 17 seconds time showed, but winning wasn’t just coming in first, for most of the thousands of runners and walkers participating Sunday. Winning was just making it from Dismal Nitch wayside to Astoria and enjoying a fine morning for the event, which is organized by the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce and Columbia Memorial Hospital.

Leon Ciehola of Portland sported a shiny new second-place medal. Another octogenarian, Ciehola said a friend encouraged him to participate this year, though he is no stranger to strenuous activity.

“It was great, even though it was my first time. I walk a lot, especially during hunting. I’ve got some elk hunting coming up. I hunt out of Scappoose for elk or Molalla for deer,” said Ciehola.

Many of the older walkers and runners say that the Great Columbia Crossing is just one event in the year that keeps them exercising, and the goals are usually the same: stay in shape and keep the doctor at bay.

John and Priscilla Snabel walked the 10 kilometers together Sunday and in fast enough time for Pricilla to earn a third-place award, despite her 70 years.

“I started walking a year ago on account of my health. I was diagnosed with a mild form of diabetes and if I exercise I don’t have to take any medicine. That’s why I’m trying to walk at least three or four times a week,” said Priscilla Snabel.

“It has been great today! It was amazing on the bridge, though I never thought that I would be able to climb the span of the bridge, but somehow it is never as bad as it looks,” she said.

John Snabel is a Vietnam War veteran who has struggled with the effects of Agent Orange. He finds that the exercise helps him.

“I’ve done the Crossing twice before and enjoy it a lot. It was really good out there today,” he said.

Cross section

The 3,500 athletes who participated in the Great Columbia Crossing represent a cross section from young to old, male and female. A favorite activity is for parents to push their babies or toddlers with them in strollers designed especially for running. The babies seem to like the ride as most of them are sleeping by the race’s end.

With the thousands of athletes and friends roaming around the Astoria basin, it is no wonder that it takes an army of more than 100 volunteers to make things go smoothly. From directing traffic, to sorting medals, to handing out food and drink to hungry athletes, volunteers were everywhere making life easier for race participants.

The city and state governments worked well together too, closing the highway to boost safety for runners, yet keeping it partially open for those willing to wait the 20 to 30 minutes for the pilot vehicle.

“I am always amazed at how well this event goes off,” said Gillian Summer of Seattle, who was waiting for a friend to finish. “This is a perfect October morning and I would rather be here than just about anywhere else,” she said.

One octogenarian felt the same.

Richelle Jackson offered her 80-year old father a folding chair when he was done, but he didn’t take it. He was feeling too well.

“I asked my doctor if it would be safe to do this race and he said, ‘If you want to do it, go ahead and do it.’ I give him all the credit. I was determined to do it and I did. It’s a great day,” said Mullins.

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