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    For couple, race not about speed

    A man set to push his wife's wheelchair in the Turkey Trot will keep his eye out for her smile, not the stopwatch.

    [Times photo: Chris Zuppa]
    Jack Parr, 85, will push his wife, Peg Parr, 85 -- who had a stroke in 2000 -- in a wheelchair in Thursday's race.

    By DAVE THEALL
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published November 25, 2002


    CLEARWATER -- There are more ways than one to define winners at the Times Turkey Trot on Thursday in Clearwater.

    The elite few will relish the thrill of breaking the finish line tape; and others will strive to run the 10-kilometer event, the 5K or the mile in a personal-best time.

    And somewhere far back in the pack of the 1-mile Gobbler event will be an 85-year-old man quietly pushing his handicapped wife in a wheelchair over the course, hoping to enrich her Thanksgiving morning in a special way. Jack Parr of St. Petersburg, who is a member of the sponsoring West Florida Y Runners Club, and his wife, Peg, also 85, won't begin anywhere near the Keene Road starting line Thursday morning.

    "I spoke with an official of the club about my idea" to push his wife in her wheelchair, Parr said. "Mary Lou Johnson said if I didn't mind starting at the very rear, she didn't think that would create a problem. That's perfectly okay with me."

    Johnson, a former president of the runners club, even volunteered to walk with the Parrs to ensure their safety and that of others meandering on the crowded course of thousands. Parr began running late in life, signing up for the multisport Good Life Games in Pinellas at 79. He then joined the runners club, finding his niche and a supportive group of runners.

    "I enjoyed the running up until a couple of years ago, when an out-of-place vertebra in my neck really started to bother me," Parr said. "It's painful, so now I walk and work out at new YMCA in St. Petersburg, where I've just been given permission to have my wife present with me in the weight room."

    In 2000, Peg Parr suffered a stroke. She has used a wheelchair since then, and Parr spends much of his time caring for her. Her illness has curtailed his running.

    Then he came up with the idea to push his wife in the Turkey Trot's 1-mile course.

    "I love running; but my since my wife had a stroke two years ago, I have to be with her constantly," he said. "This way I can participate, and she can enjoy the festive atmosphere, too."

    When another supportive member of the runners club, Denise Skinner, heard about his idea, she used her connections to make the challenge easier for the Parrs.

    Skinner, director of transportation for the Pinellas Suncoast Transportation Authority, called Custom Mobility Inc. of Largo and asked if the Parrs could borrow something better than a conventional wheelchair.

    "They (the Parrs) went over there Thursday and tried out a couple of them and found something that will work well for them," Skinner said of the sleek three-wheeler they've been loaned. "What they selected is just the ticket; it will be safer and faster, especially on the hills."

    Parr, a native of New Bedford, Mass., enjoyed the rigors of working with the Civilian Conservation Corps, part of the Roosevelt administration's New Deal during the Great Depression of the 1930s. He later retired as a machinist from a plant in Sandy Hook, Conn.

    At one point, the trim 149-pounder boxed professionally. He also participated in marathon dance contests, "which is another story," he said.

    Parr has been told by a chiropractor that he might need to have an operation on his neck. But if that involves being away from his wife for two or three days, he said, he'll pass.

    Despite his pain, Parr entered the 2000 Hops Marathon and survived the ordeal by walking most of it and winning his 80-84 age division with a time of 8 hours, 11 minutes. "That's the way it is now," Parr said. "Very seldom is there anyone else in their 80s, therefore I've won some very nice trophies, plaques and other awards."

    Parr expects to be enriched by a more intangible reward on Thanksgiving morning at Clearwater High School.

    "I try to keep my wife's life stimulated by doing different things with her," he said. "I'm sure she'll enjoy the experience through the neighborhoods, and that's a big enough reward for me."

    Turkey Trot

    The Times Turkey Trot is Thursday. Runners and walkers can register for any of the three Turkey Trot events at a Kick-Off Party at Clearwater High School's Jack White Stadium from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday. Please bring exact change: $6, $7 or $9. Live music, food and games will be provided along with Turkey Trot merchandise. On race day, the fees rise to $7 or $12 with a T-shirt. All three events will start on Keene Road just west of the high school south of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. The 5K Wingding starts at 7:30 a.m.; the Gobbler Mile is at 8:30 a.m.; and the Turkey Trot 10K is at 8:45 a.m. Arrive early for parking. More than 10,000 participants are expected.

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