Following my tradition of celebrating Molly Shannon’s wonderful characters, today’s blog is the first in a new series called “Superstars.” In the Not-Yet-Dead world (and in my eyes) these are the over-65s who aren’t letting obstacles get in the way of their dreams. They are resilient, adventuresome, experienced, gifted, masterful people, setting an example for all of us about embracing life.
Ernest Andrus is one of those Superstars. I had the recent opportunity to “interview” Ernie via email and decided to start this series because of his story.
Let me get right to the point. Ernie Andrus broke the world’s record for the oldest person to run coast to coast across the United States on August 20, 2016.
He was 93.
And guess what. At 97, he’s on his way back.
I decided to reach out to Ernie one day when I was feeling particularly lazy. If I, at 64, couldn’t rouse myself for a walk around the neighborhood, how in the world did this man have the energy (or desire) to run across the US?
Here’s how Ernie explained it.
“I served in the Navy during World War II as a hospital Corpsman. After the war, I went to UCLA on the GI Bill until I started a family. Then, I spent my working years in drug store and grocery store management. I took an early retirement in 1984 when the company I was working for sold out.
“I always liked to run. The Olympics came to Los Angeles in 1984, and I ran the Olympic Torchbearer 10K run in Huntington Beach. I enjoyed it so much I started running every local 5 and 10K run.
“In my old age most pleasures have dwindled, but I still like to run. I ran two half marathons at 87 and 89 years old, ran my first Ragnar 200-mile Relay at age 88.”
Always Seeking Adventure – By Sea
“As far back as I can remember I was always seeking adventure. A shipmate found there was a ship on the Isle of Crete identical to the one we served on during the war. He had been searching for one for about 10 years. The LST was considered by many as the ship that won the war, and many LST sailors felt it was important to find one for posterity. This was an adventure I found irresistible.
“We were told it was impossible to sail a ship that old across the Atlantic on its own power. The young sailors could not do it because they depend on computers. The average age of our crew was 72. I was 77. We knew we could do it. We spent four months restoring it to seaworthiness. Now in her home port of Evansville, Indiana, the LST 325 is only operational LST in WWII configuration afloat in US waters.”
You can see the History Chanel documentary, ‘The Return of LST 325’ on YouTube.”
Always Seeking Adventure – By Land
“I searched the web and found the oldest man on record crossing the United States on foot was 73. I got so much recognition as an 88-year old man running a Ragnar that I decided to run coast to coast in my 90’s mainly for the fun of it, but with a cause: raising funds to keep our ship seaworthy. I hope to raise enough money to return the ship to Normandy for a D-Day Memorial Service and beach it at the same location where it was on D-Day.
“I started by putting my foot in the Pacific Ocean at Mission Beach CA and finished at the Atlantic, Saint Simons Island, GA – one day after my 93rd birthday. After two years, I got bored and decided to run back the other way. I ran from the Atlantic, across GA, FL, AL, MS, LA and well into TX when my back gave out. The back pain prevents me from running more than a mile.
“My advice to everyone young and old: exercise. About 45 years ago I read an article in a Kaiser Hospital newsletter recommending a group of exercises to get the heart pumping when you first wake up. I believe this has kept me going for all these years.”
I realized that there was one question I hadn’t asked Ernie – and surely someone who has lived 97 years, served in World War II, run across the US (and is heading back) would have an answer worth listening to: How have you learned to deal with obstacles in your life? What do you tell yourself when your plans say one thing and life says another?
“All my life I have sought adventure. To me that’s what made life interesting. I have had many failures. I learned that failures are just as valuable as successes if you learn from your failures. The son of a friend knew nothing but success all his life. He started at the bottom and worked his way up to business manager of a grocery chain. A lifetime of success. His wife divorced him. He hung himself. When something doesn’t work out the way I wanted I just go on living – I’m not yet dead.”
Ernie Andrus – SUPERSTAR!
For more information, please visit CoasttoCoastRuns
If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to LST 325 Ship Memorial, please make checks payable to Coast to Coast Runs and indicate “Donation” in the memo line. The address is 5010 North Tiara Court, Otis Orchard, WA 99027. Ernie can also be sponsored through Coast to Coast Runs.