Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System
Tulsa Veteran Aims to be “Boston Strong”
During 1969-1970, Air Force Veteran Gary Britt deployed to the Southeast Asian country of Thailand to support military operations in Vietnam. As part of his supply duties, Britt developed film that was shot by U.S. planes over the skies of Vietnam.
Only 25 years old at that time, Britt was a smoker and social drinker. But an evening at a bar in Bangkok with his Air Force buddies changed the rest of his life. He began coughing as a result of his smoking habit and he made the decision to immediately quit and get in shape.
“I realized I was already getting a smoker’s cough,” said Britt, who receives his health care through the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center. “That night I realized at 25 years old, if this is already affecting me like this, what will it be like at 45 years old? It will kill me. So I threw away my cigarettes that night and I started running.”
More than 42 years later, the 67-year-old is still running. Throughout his life, he estimates that he has run more than 40,000 miles and more than 300 races, including many marathons.
On April 21, Britt will run in the 118th Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest and most prestigious marathon.
Britt was inspired to run in the marathon due to last year’s terrorist attacks that killed three and injured 264 others at the race’s finish line.
In the aftermath of the bombings, the city of Boston rallied to demonstrate to the world that they would not live in fear and future marathons would take place. The defiant rallying cry led to the popular motto “Boston Strong.”
“It was one of those defining moments that showed the backbone and strength of this country,” he said. “I think there’s so many people who want to prove that (the bombings are) not going to stop this country from doing what we have the freedom and the right to do. So I think it’s going to be very emotional.”
In 2009, Britt ran in the Boston Marathon for the first time and 2014 will be the second time he has participated.
“Boston is the most elite marathon in the world,” said Britt. “Anyone who runs Boston has to first go run another marathon and qualify with a certain time to even make an application.”
In fact, Boston is the only marathon in the world where runners must first qualify. Britt not only qualified, he ran the 26 miles and 385 yards in three hours and 37 minutes. For his age group, 65 to 69, Britt had to run the race in four hours.
“My goal is to try and run a 3 hour and 30 minute marathon,” he said.
After Boston, there are several other prestigious marathons still on his ‘to do’ list.
“I still want to go do the Air Force Marathon because I was in the Air Force,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to do the Marine Corps Marathon. I want to do the New York City Marathon. Those are three that are still on my bucket list to do.”
For Britt, running is not only a form of mental therapy, but it also keeps him in tip top shape. He typically runs six miles per day and has run every single day for the past two years.
“I’m 67 years old and I take absolutely nothing (medication),” he said. “Part of that is just being blessed with good genes, but part of that also has to be what you’re doing with your body each day.”
He said his goal is not to live longer, but to have a better quality of life as he ages.
“I may not live one day longer than the person who does nothing,” he said. “But every day I live will be a healthier and better day.”
While he’s not in as good of shape as he was in his 30’s, he’s satisfied with his health.
“I’m in great shape right now for my age,” said Britt. “I can’t run like I could 35 years ago. There’s no way, because I was running six-minute miles or less back then. I can’t do that now. But I can still run under eight-minute miles.”
While most people may not be able to run a marathon, Britt says they can still get active and improve their health no matter their age.
“Just take one step today,” he said. “Tomorrow, take two steps. Then the next day take three steps. Pretty soon you’ll find out that you’re up to a mile.”
Before you get started, Britt said you have to first set goals for your physical fitness.
“We have to continually have goals in our life,” he said. “Those goals can be written down or in your head. Without a goal, you’re just going to drift.”
He stressed that getting back in shape won’t happen overnight.
“We as Americans want to get in shape,” he said. “But we want to get in shape by this weekend. It doesn’t work that way. It took you a lot of years to get in the shape you’re in and it will take you some time to get back in shape. Just get up off the couch and go walk down the block and then the next day walk two blocks.”