As racers gear up for the Rockville Centre Recreation Center’s annual run on Saturday, a variety of first-timers and long-timers will flock to the starting line. Village resident Ted Muellers will stand among the latter group.
Muellers, 81, has lived in Rockville Centre for 51 years, and is set to run his 50th straight village race this weekend.
The streak began in 1968, back when the local event was a Turkey Trot held on Thanksgiving. Over the years, he has braved a couple rainstorms — which he said he loves running in — and one year rebounded from a minor surgery less than a week before the event to keep the streak alive.
“It takes a lot of luck to do this, because the simplest things can throw you off,” he said. “You can get a bad cold two days before, you can sprain an ankle a week before.”
Among the participants in his first Rockville Centre race nearly five decades ago, he recalled, were local high school students coming off their cross-country seasons, along with he and two other 30-plus-year-olds.
“So, yeah, just three guys [over 30],” he said. “And from there, it grew.”
About 10 years after Muellers’ first Rockville Centre race, the event became a 10-kilometer run, he said, and the village later began offering a five-kilometer course, as it does today, along with a one-mile Fun Run, attracting hundreds of runners in recent years.
Though the local race has become his favorite, Muellers ran long before moving to Rockville Centre. He grew up in Queens, and ran track in high school, and later for Manhattan College, specializing in 800-meter races. His high school team set a New England record at the time for the four-mile relay, and in 1957, he and his college teammates won the same event at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia, the oldest and largest track and field competition in the United States.
In the early 1980s, Muellers ran the New York City marathon, one of three full marathons he has accomplished so far. At age 70, he ran a marathon relay in Vermont with his four children.
“I think it’s what’s keeping him alive,” said Muellers’ wife, Nonie. “I think it’s important to his mental health. The endorphins are really important, and I think it’s really made a difference.”
Running two or three times a week, Muellers said he enjoys traversing Hempstead Lake State Park, and finds the hobby relaxing. He runs about a dozen races per year as part of a summer and winter series, with events held at various state parks around Long Island.
A 46-year Boy Scout leader for Rockville Centre’s Troop 517, Muellers said running is also fulfilling a promise to the group. “Part of the scout oath is to keep myself physically strong,” he said. “Running is my way of doing that.”
A few weeks after he completes Saturday’s 5K, Muellers said the village will be acknowledging his accomplishment at its next meeting on Dec. 4. He added that he would keep running until he can’t anymore.
His favorite part about it? “Just being out there and moving,” he said. “I mean, to me, it’s something incredible about the human body and just putting it to work and making it do what it can do.”