PHILADELPHIA — The most impressive race at the 2022 Penn Relays didn’t belong to Olympic champion Athing Mu or the dominant University of South Carolina sprinters or even the high-schooler who ran a 4:01 mile.
It was 100-year-old Long Branch, New Jersey resident Lester Wright running the 100-meter dash Saturday — and holding his own against 80-somethings. Not only did Wright finish the race, clocking a spry 26 seconds; he didn’t come in last. Competing for Shore Athletic Club, the World War II veteran crossed the seventh line of nine competitors, just a couple of strides from fifth place.
The Franklin Field crowd of 38,000 loved every bit of it, giving Wright and the other master’s-level competitors a full-throated standing ovation.
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“It was pretty nice to be able to do this at age 100,” Wright said. “When I came here I was a little bit nervous, but when I saw the crowd and everything I fell right in with it.”
Wright ran track for Long Branch High School in the 1930s. He married his teenage sweetheart Adele — they are still married, 80 years later — then went off to Europe with the Army during World War II, evading bombs at the infamous Battle of the Bulge and earning four Bronze Battle Stars. He came home, went to college on the GI bill and opened the first African American-owned dental lab in Monmouth County, New Jersey, making prosthetic teeth.
All the while Wright kept running. In 1999, as a 77-year-old, he won the 75-and-over 100-meter dash at the Penn Relays. To this day, he runs through the streets of Long Branch at least three times a week, a mile-and-a-half at a time.
Wright turned 100 Friday, the day before the race. The next-oldest competitor was 92 and the others were in their 80s. The winning time, for the record, was a brisk 17.33 seconds by 84-year-old Bob Williamson.
Asked what he thought of his performance, Wright quipped, “Slow.”
Asked if he was tired, he firmly replied, “No.”
He used to run the 200 and 400 meters.
“At 100 meters, I feel like I’m just getting started,” said the man who was born in 1922. “I thought this was nice, but I wanted a longer race.”
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Penn Relays: 100-year-old Lester Wright runs 100-meter dash