There are few runners on the island province of Newfoundland who draw as much fanfare as Florence Barron.
It’s perhaps not surprising that the crowds cheer so enthusiastically when she runs by, because Barron is precisely what you look for in a role model athlete: disciplined, ambitious, talented, kind, and dominant amongst her peers. In short, an inspiration.
And at 84 years old, she’s very fast, too.
“There’s no one for me to beat” says Barron, commenting on the local competition within her age category. “So, I’m just running for the joy of running.”
Indeed, Barron moves with an efficient and considered stride, and wears the casual expression of someone who’s enjoying the journey as much as she is looking forward to the destination. The St. John’s resident discovered the sport at age 59 after a lifetime of activity—cycling, swimming, skating, skiing, often with her five children—when she signed up for the province’s oldest and most well-attended event, the Tely 10 Mile Road Race, on a whim.
“I thought, ‘well, I can do aerobics for a couple of hours, so I guess I could go and run that race with everybody else,’” she says. “Without a bit of training, I went, and I ran the ten miles and got the first-place trophy for my age.”
She admits that she was sore after that first Tely 10, and the year after, too, when she again won her age category with little to no training leading up to it. But things got more serious the year after when Barron signed up for running lessons
at a local running store. “I was doing everything wrong,” she recalls. “I was wearing the wrong shoes. I didn’t know how to stretch or eat or how to train, so the lessons were wonderful.”
Barron has since updated her gear and technique, and joined several local athletic groups that offer running-oriented training programs. Today, she blends running, weight and bodyweight training, and yoga into her weekly activities.
She’s also padded her list of victories and titles. Over the years, Barron has set and beat times not only at the beloved local Tely 10, but also at one of the Atlantic’s toughest events, the Cape to Cabot 20K, a grueling and intensely hilly jaunt from Cape Spear to Signal Hill in St. John’s, culminating in a mile-long climb. And there are many others.
“I thought, ‘well, I can do aerobics for a couple of hours, so I guess I could go and run that race with everybody else.”
On the nearby French island of Saint Pierre, for example, Barron ran a 25 kilomtetre event and won, setting a record that she’d return to top the following year. Then, when she turned 80 the year after, she was invited to return to compete as the oldest racer to lace up for the event in its 35 years. “They had me on TV in France and everything, because I technically have three records there,” she says.
Barron’s talent and youthful energy is a boon not only to her sport, but also to her family and community, as she has spent much of her decades in Atlantic Canada volunteering with various organizations. In 2014, the Canadian Red Cross bestowed its highest honour, the Order of the Red Cross, on her for over 50 years of volunteer service.
“We are so truly proud of her and all of her accomplishments,” says Lana Nielsen, one of Barron’s daughters. “She has always inspired us to go after our dreams, be respectful and be the best possible us we could be. I’m so blessed to call her my mother.”
The community seems to share the sentiment, as evidenced by the cheering section present at Barron’s races. “Oh my gosh, they’re just terrible,” says Barron, referring to her vocal roadside supporters. “They’re just out on the road—and they know me here now—and they’re going crazy. I go, ‘oh, stop it! Stop it!’.
But the public isn’t likely to stop supporting Barron until she slows down. And she doesn’t have any plans for that just yet. With her dedicated activities and God-given genetic fortitude, she’ll keep on running. “I don’t really plan on getting faster. I just want to keep and maintain what I have,” she says. “As long as I feel good and I can go out and run comfortably without having any issues, that’s what it’s all about.”
Barron is currently gearing up for another season of races. You can find, and cheer, for her on the roads and trails of Newfoundland.
Photography by Trudie Lee
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