- May 8, 2019
Winter Park resident Alice Mackenzie couldn’t help but smile when she heard it — the words of “Happy Birthday” sung to her by family and complete strangers alike. But the Winter Parker wasn’t at a local restaurant or her dining room table. She was standing in the middle of Park Avenue just a few feet away from a finish line.
She had just walked two miles the same day she turned 90 years old.
Mackenzie celebrated her 90th birthday Saturday, March 23, doing what she loves: walking in an outdoor race. The Winter Parker spent her special day finishing the 2-mile run at the Zimmerman Kiser Sutcliffe Winter Park Road Race, joined by her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
It was the latest race for an avid runner and walker who has finished hundreds of races in the past 41 years.
“I don’t know what else could be better,” Mackenzie said. “We had a beautiful day and lots of people. It’s an exhilarating feeling with all of those people there — especially when they sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to you.”
Mackenzie wasn’t walking alone: Four generations of her family crossed the finish line at once. About 42 family members came to town to celebrate Mackenzie’s big day, with many of them finishing the race by her side.
Mackenzie’s daughter, Mary Hooper, said the family always tries to come together and walk. The local running events in the Orlando area have become family gatherings, she said.
“We always do runs together if there’s a family event that corresponds with one of the Track Shack runs,” Hooper said. “Mom’s kids are scattered all over the country. Whenever we’re in town, if there’s a road race happening, we know that’s what mom wants to do, so we all do it.”
Mackenzie’s passion for running all started back in the 1970s, when she saw her daughter, Betsy Hughes, competing in high-school cross-country and track.
“I had always been active in my youth, and as the youngest three of my six children were becoming more independent, I decided to give running a try,” Mackenzie said. “I was a volunteer at the hospital, so I put on those gray lady shoes and walked over to Winter Park High School and started running laps. ... I think I know most every street in Winter Park.”
In 1978, Mackenzie joined one of her first big races — the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot, which she still walks with family members today.
“After that first Turkey Trot, I was hooked,” she said. “I ran as many of the Track Shack races that I could manage and also would run races when traveling.”
Over the years, Mackenzie completed many 5K and 10K races, as well as four marathons, including the Florida Festival in 1982, New York in 1988, London in 1991 and the first Walt Disney World Marathon in 1994. Mackenzie ran 10 to 12 races a year in her heyday.
Mementos from various races are easy to spot in her home — on her wall of marathon photos and several quilts she’s made out of race T-shirts.
Mackenzie fell in love with hiking, as well. In 1994, she began a series of extensive section hikes, spending many weeks at a time on the Appalachian Trail. Between 1994 and 2006, Mackenzie completed 1,575 of the 2,190 miles from Georgia through Massachusetts.
She’s also had family members join her, including several of her children and grandchildren — family memories made over the span of thousands of steps.
“Being active together is something our family cherishes,” Mackenzie said.
Even well after retirement, Mackenzie continues to participate in races, although she admits she’s more of a walker than a runner these days. Today, she can be seen in five or six races every year.
But what’s the secret to living to be 90 years old? Mackenzie said the answer is simple.
“Honest to God, being outside and continuing to move is the secret,” she said. “I have been a vegetarian for decades. Whenever I can get outside, I feel better physically and mentally.”
Mackenzie said she plans to get out and walk in the races for as long as she can.
“Some people run because it is good exercise, which it is,” Mackenzie said. “I really enjoy running and now walking because it gets me out there. No matter how bad things are, everything is better after a long run or good walk.”