Age is just a number: 51-year-old Diana Furey races for Pioneer Cross-Country

 

Many athletic departments can say that the typical athlete ranges from the ages of 18-23. But how many times can they say they have a student-athlete who is 51 years old and is making collegiate A-standard times in cross country?

Junior Diana Furey outraces a pack of runners in the All-Ohio Intercollegiate Championships in Cedarville, OH. For Furey, hitting A-standard for Pioneer Cross-Country was one of the greatest running accomplishments in her life. (Photo courtesy of Dave Zeuch)

For 51-year-old marathon runner, mother and grandmother Diana Furey, age is just a number. Furey is a full-time student-athlete who runs cross-country for Malone.

“I am not sure if there is a record count for who is the oldest collegiate athlete in America, but she would be close to being one of the oldest, I am sure,” Cross-Country Head Coach Jack Hazen said.

Besides her age, Furey has also made a few more shocking impressions upon the team, coaches and herself.

In a preseason camp, she achieved one of the highlights of her life by running the A-standard time in a time-trial that was held a week before school started.

“It was one of the best days of my running life,” Furey said. “I ran with my heart that day and I out ran my abilities. It is one of my top five best running accomplishes.”

But hitting A-standard is just a small piece of Furey’s accomplishes in running. Incredibly, she has run exactly 10 marathons in the last four years and is making her way to New York City in the next three weeks to run her eleventh.

Even at her age, Furey’s love to run comes simply from her faith, worship and glorifying of Christ.

“There are people that can sing; they can get up in front of people and worship and I’ve always wanted to do that,” Furey said. “There are people that can dance; they lead people in worship by dancing. Running is the way I praise Him. And it’s not about being the best. It’s not being the fastest; it’s giving it to Him.”

Furey’s outstanding marathon running and faithfulness was actually what brought her here to join the cross-country program.

For Hazen there was no hesitation on asking Furey to join the program.

[pullquote]I am not sure if there is a record count for who is the oldest collegiate athlete in America, but she would be close to being one of the oldest, I am sure,” head cross country coach Jack Hazen said.[/pullquote]

“I knew Diana was running in the last couple of years and has really been dedicated to running marathons,” Hazen said. “After visiting with her, I found out she was a part-time student here at Malone. I asked her to come into my office and I mentioned to her how she could run for the team next semester if everything was situated with credits. She’s never been on a team ever; she’s only run by herself and some of her road racing friends. I thought it would have been a good experience for her.”

Furey agreed to join. However, getting her cleared for eligibility was a long, challenging process.

“I remember it taking us months to get me cleared,” Furey said.

“We struggled to work out the details,” Hazen said. “It actually took us a long time to get her cleared since she attended another school. The process dragged out for three months.”

The painful process, though, didn’t stop Furey from trying to be a part of the Pioneer Cross-Country community.

“A normal person would have given up on it, but she hung in there and was very patient with us,” Hazen said. “I always knew it would work out, but I just didn’t know how long it was going to take for her to be cleared.”

Seniors Becky Neitzel and Allison Black share a warm moment with Furey before the race at the U.S. Naval Academy Invitational in Annapolis, Maryland. For the women's cross-country team, Furey has become somewhat of role model to her teammates. (Photo courtesy of Dave Zeuch)

After a long struggle, Furey was eligible to be a part of Malone Cross-Country and has made an impact since the beginning.

“I knew she was going to be a good influence on the team,” Hazen said. “She has a motherly influence on the other girls and she’s a great Christian gal and has brought so much to the program.”

For one of the new faces, freshman Sara Polatas, Furey has been a “motherly influence” as someone to look up to as a role model.

“I enjoy our talks we have on our cool-downs,” Polatas said. “She is always so positive in her running and is very driven. All of us girls can look up to her as someone we would want to be.”

According to Furey, her relationship with the women on the team is a good one. At first though she admitted that she was a little hesitant about what they would think of her.

“At first I was a little nervous,” Furey said. “I wasn’t sure how the other girls would react. But, they really welcomed me with open arms and I love seeing them succeed in their running. I am not 20, nor do I try to be. I am 51, and I do not feel the pressure to perform the way they perform.”

Despite being the last Pioneer runner to finish, Furey is not fazed at all because that is not what is important to her.

“I am the last one on the team for the Malone girls, but that doesn’t even bother me,” Furey said. “I know all my girls are in, and I am just making sure no one is left, and I just don’t have a problem with that.”

Furey has also made enormous contributions to the team, and not just in her running abilities. She leads the recently created road-racing club, has designed shirts for them, and has been a mentor for the road racers as well in their training.

Furey runs with a pack at the blank invitational. For Furey, running is her method of worshipping God. (Photo courtesy of Dave Zeuch)

“Her contributions have been extensive,” Hazen said. “She volunteered to be the mentor for the people that want to run road races. She’s sent them emails of encouragement and has got them ready to go. She offers so much to us other than her placement on the team.”

Besides all of her running responsibilities, Furey is also a mother of four, has two dogs and is a grandmother to one grandson, with another on the way.

“One of the most important things that I have learned is how important it is to be a woman of God,” Furey said. “The person that taught me that is Janice Stuckey and her husband, who was a professor here at Malone but has passed. But she really taught me the importance of that and to strive for that. I think of her almost every single day. She has been a huge influence in my life.”

Furey will continue her season here with the Pioneers and, according to Hazen, hopes to even make running a career someday. She also hopes to go to graduate school for exercise science and continue to glorify His name with running.

“I can honestly say I run for Him,” Furey said. “I run for me, I run for my teammates, I run for my health, but when it comes down to it, I run for Him.”

Tina Oprean is a staff writer for Aviso AVW.

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