Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

He ran for his life at 45

This 88-year-old shares route to health and longevity

A new year often means New Year’s resolutions. Fitness is one of the most common goals at the top of people’s lists, but according to a 2018 Strava study, Americans  will give up on their fitness ambitions as early as mid-January. For local resident Ray Rodriguez, giving up was not an option. During a routine check-up, Rodriguez’s doctor gave him a dire warning, “Ray, if you want me to see you again next year, you better do something.” So, Rodriguez turned to fitness, sprinting past quitting and running towards success. He is 88 years old and still exercising. 

Rodriguez was born in Puerto Rico in 1935; he came to the United States in 1946. Rodriguez grew up in Manhattan, then relocated to the Bronx and Queens before settling down in his later years near Lake Peekskill. After serving with the U.S. Army in his youth, Rodriguez left in 1957. He then became a union delegate for The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1500 (Rodriguez worked there until his retirement in 1998). In 1960, Rodriguez got married; this, Rodriguez joked, is when he put on the weight. At the time, Rodriguez was solely focused on his job and his wife and three kids; his health was the least of his concerns. 

Ray Rodriquez works out every day at Planet Fitness in the Beach Shopping Center.

On a fateful day in 1980, Rodriguez  received a wake-up call from his doctor. The doctor revealed that Rodriguez had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and was at least 60 pounds overweight (at the time, Rodriguez was 210 pounds; when he left the army he was 140 pounds). Essentially, Rodriguez  was a heart attack away from disaster. Rodriguez recalled feeling very scared when he received the news, but he was determined  to change. 

Dedicated to living a healthier lifestyle, Rodriguez picked up running after meeting a few local runners in his neighborhood in Queens. The runners took Rodriguez under their wing and soon he was training for his first marathon. Any marathon runner will tell you training is no joke. Training for Rodriguez consisted of dedicated days for long distance running, sprinting on a track, and hill running. Within two years, after running hundreds of miles and eating more healthily,  Rodriguez was down to 150 pounds; he has maintained that weight for more than 40 years. 

By 1982, Rodriguez was feeling confident: he had lost 60 pounds; he had run in some local races. But Rodriguez had his sights set on the Mecca of races, the Boston Marathon. To qualify, Rodriguez, then 47, needed to complete a marathon in 3 hours and 10 minutes. He made the cut with 19 seconds to spare: Rodriguez finished the Long Island Marathon in 3:09:41 and qualified to run in the 1982 Boston Marathon.

Rodriquez qualified for the Boston Marathon with a time of under 3 hours and 10 minutes.

Starting a marathon and finishing a marathon are very distinct events. Rodriguez recalled facing mental obstacles along his runs: he felt like giving up after feeling like he ran out of ‘gas’ and began slowing down. When asked how he pushed past that and finished the marathon, Rodriguez  responded, “It was all in my mind. I told myself, ‘I came here and I did all this training for this, I ain’t going to give up.’” His perseverance and dedication allowed him to enjoy many years of marathon running; Rodriguez ran a total of 15 marathons before hanging up his running shoes in the late 1980s. 

Although Rodriguez isn’t running as much now, he continues to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle. Twenty-five years ago, he was diagnosed with diabetes. Rather than being weighed down by this diagnosis, Rodriguez pushed himself to stay in shape: “I became addicted to coming into the gym and exercising.” Rodriguez also noticed that many of his peers were not living very long, and he didn’t want to follow that trend.

 “When I retired, I saw a lot of guys that I used to work with die at a young age, a year or a couple of years after they retired. They never got to enjoy their retirement.” At 88, Rodriguez is not slowing down. Five years ago, Rodriguez joined the local Planet Fitness at 1839 Main Street. He spends two hours a day, five times a week at the gym lifting weights, walking on the treadmill, and riding the bike. 

“Ray is an inspiration for all who know his story, and he is living proof that if you set your mind to something, you can achieve it, regardless of your age,” said Patrick Lloyd, a spokesperson for Planet Fitness. 

For all the people considering living a healthier lifestyle this coming year, Rodriguez says, “Get active!” 


About the Contributor
Jeffrey Merchan
Peekskill native Jeffrey Merchan is a 2022 graduate of Peekskill High School. He is the Collegiate Journalist at Peekskill Herald, funded by a grant from the DJ McManus Foundation. He is currently enrolled at Westchester Community College where he is studying journalism. As the inaugural recipient of the McManus grant, he will be covering city government, schools and feature stories with a focus on Peekskill’s growing Hispanic community.