By the time Jim McConnon entered the University of Colorado’s Folsom Field and began the final approach to the finish line of the Bolder Boulder 10K on May 30, the post-race Memorial Day celebration was nearly over. As soon as it concluded a few moments later, most of the estimated 45,000 spectators—many of whom had run the race earlier in the day—began to head for the exits.
But then a smattering of applause erupted from the southwest corner of the stadium, and it continued to grow louder. The clapping was for McConnon, who, slowly but surely, was bound and determined to reach the finish line. Aided by his daughter, Linda McConnon, and a friend of hers, McConnon hobbled his way with a cane toward the line as the cheering grew louder.
The 90-year-old World War II veteran from Philadelphia wound up being the final finisher of the 10K’s 38th running through the streets of Boulder, Colo. With his daughter at his side the entire way, he had slowly shuffled his way along the course amid an estimated 50,765 participants in the 99 citizen waves of the race—only to be held up for a bit near the 5-mile mark as the elite runners in the pro races zoomed through the streets later in the morning. He kept chugging along even after the pro races concluded and the country’s largest Memorial Day tribute began.
When he entered the stadium in time to hear 91-year-old Army veteran Stewart Boone play the National Anthem on a bugle, tears ran down McConnon’s face. Once the ceremony concluded with a 21-gun salute and a dual Navy F-16 fly-over, McConnon continued on the final 150 meters or so and crossed the line with a smile on his face at 12:41 p.m.—roughly 3 hours and 54 minutes after starting from the MP wave at 8:47 a.m. That’s about three times as long as it took the average Bolder Boulder finisher on Monday, but he wasn’t at all concerned about his time—just that he made it.
“I’m ready for a beer,” he said with a chuckle after reaching the finish.
McConnon, who served in the Naval Air Corps during World War II, has finished the Bolder Boulder seven times since 2003, which includes three times finishing as the first—and only—runner in his age division. Two years ago when he was 88, he finished in 2:35:48. His best time came in 2005, when he was 79 and finished in 1:30:35.
Suffering from neuropathy in his lower legs, he said this year was a bit more challenging because he has less strength and feeling in his legs than in previous years. He asked his daughter, who lives in Boulder, to accompany him along the course for the first time.
“I couldn’t have done it without them,” he said. “I feel just fine, but my legs are dead so that slowed me down and made it a long day.”
Memorial Day has always been special to McConnon and his family. He lost one of his brothers, a pilot in the Army Air Corps, during World War II when his plane went down in Yugoslavia. “Four out of six boys in our family fought in World War II and one of us didn’t come back,” McConnon said. “Those were the days.”
Ten years ago, McConnon went to Europe to bring back his brother’s remains and met a family that had held his brother’s belt buckle in safekeeping for more than half a century.
“There was a family in the countryside that he went and met, and they told him, ‘We’ve been waiting for you,'” Linda said. “So Memorial Day is a big day for him and our whole family. I’m so happy that he made it, and that I was to be able to finish with him.”
McConnon’s finish provided a huge final shot of inspiration to those who witnessed it after the impressive Memorial Day tribute—which also included a military color guard, skydivers landing in the stadium with flags for each branch of the military and the honoring of veterans Col. Lee Van Arsdale (U.S. Army Delta Force), Chuck Chaldekas (Navy Seal), Dr. Ralph Christensen (U.S. Army), Dr. John Farrington(U.S. Army) and Lt. Col Donald Stonebreaker (U.S. Air Force).
Ryan Van Duzer, a Boulder native and Bolder Boulder finisher, was one of those who was there to cheer McConnon “and his team of angels” on from the stadium’s south stands.
“I heard faint cheering and turned around to see what was going on,” Van Duzer said. “His triumphant march, canes and all, caused people to stop their frenzied exit, turn around, and cheer him on. His spirit lifted me, and everyone else who managed to pick up on this amazing moment, to scream at the top of their lungs, and make sure that he received a hero’s welcome. These are the magical moments that make me love the Bolder Boulder.”
Brian Metzler is the editor of Competitor.com and Competitor magazine.