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Legends to Celebrate 60th Birthdays With a Marathon

Samuelson has known Westphal since high school. They graduated the same year, from different Maine schools, and Joan, Michael’s sister, was one of Samuelson’s running rivals during her early years. The two reunited in the Boston Athletic Association tent after last year’s Boston Marathon. As Samuelson recalls it, she told him, “I want to run a marathon in Maine, and I want to run with you.”

The last time the two ran together was during the 1979 Boston Marathon. “I passed Joanie at mile 9, and ran with her for about a quarter mile,” Westphal says. “I talked to her for a few sentences. We were both pretty intense. Plus, she had an entourage of people around her.” Westphal went on to run 2:30 that day, Samuelson 2:35, an American record in her debut marathon.

In the ensuing years, while Samuelson went on to international glory, Westphal competed among the best in Maine, running his marathon PR of 2:29:50 at Sugarloaf in 1984. In his 30s, however, Westphal got busy raising kids and managing his carpentry business, and he stopped racing. Then, in 2006 at age 49, he thought he would have to stop running completely when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Three years ago, however, after finding better medications for his symptoms that helped him control his limbs and improved his running form, he entered a few local races, and made a surprising discovery. “Once I started training, I found that the further I ran, the more my symptoms subsided,” he says. “I decided then and there I was going to run a marathon.”

Westphal not only finished The Great Run marathon, held on his home turf, Cranberry Island, but he qualified for Boston, running 3:32:56. (His race has been made into a documentary called Outrunning Parkinson’s.)

Westphal has since run the Mount Desert Island marathon twice, The Great Run again, and Boston and New York City marathons, in the process raising $76,000 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation and inspiring many, including an Olympic gold medalist.

“I’ve never raised money through my running,” Samuelson says. “But when I saw Michael after Boston, I didn’t know how or what, I just knew that I wanted to run with Michael and raise money and awareness for Parkinson’s.”

Westphal says he has been inspired by Fox. “One of the things he said was that the first thing you have to do when you accept the fact that you are going to be battling Parkinson’s the rest of your life, is that you have to drop your vanity,” Westphal says.  “That struck a chord with me as far as lining up in public for road races because of the stares I would get. I had to learn that it didn’t really matter what I looked like—the important thing was that I was living my life to the fullest and doing what I loved to do.”

Runners who want to be a part of the event can do so in three ways: The Sugarloaf Marathon has reserved 50 bibs in either the marathon or 15K for those who meet a fundraising goal for Team Fox. If you can’t make it to Maine, you can sign up and run a virtual race in support. Or you can donate to the cause.

“This is about Michael,” Samuelson says. “This is me giving back to the sport in a way that makes perfect sense and tells a really cool story. My first marathon was in ’79—that was 38 years ago. I’ve never run a marathon in Maine. I think it is about time to do so. To do it in the week of my 60th birthday makes it an even sweeter story, and the fact that Michael and I are so close in age, and so close in our passion for the sport and for the state. This is about helping each other, and it’s about Maine and about Parkinsons and Michael J. Fox.”

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