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Never too late to try something new

Fran Carlson of Detroit Lakes accepts her first-place medal at the Uff Da Run in Woodville, Wis., on May 15 -- three days before her 90th birthday. It was the first time Carlson had attempted to take part in a running competition -- but it may not be her last.

Most people preparing to take part in their very first marathon train for the race extensively.

The only preparation that Detroit Lakes' Fran Carlson had, however, was a train ride.

Carlson, who celebrated her 90th birthday in May, decided to begin the celebration a little early this year -- by taking part in the 9th annual "Uff Da Run" in Woodville, Wis., on May 15.

She had taken the train to Wisconsin to visit her daughter, Nancy McDaniels, in Marshfield, Wis., a couple of days earlier. They were planning to drive to her son's home in Red Wing for the birthday celebration.

While they were enjoying supper together, Nancy happened to see an advertisement for the half marathon and 5K run, and said it was "on the way" to Red Wing.

"Mom, would you think about going into that (race)?" she asked.

"Nancy, I don't think I can," her mother responded.

But by the time they were finished with their meal, Fran was convinced.

They made the drive to Marshfield bright and early the next morning -- registration for the race began at 6 a.m.

Two hours later, the run was underway -- but not without a little trepidation on Carlson's part.

"I had never, ever been in anything like this before," she said.

"Three and a half miles is a long way, so I tried to take it easy," Carlson said of her strategy. "When I got to where I could see the finish line, I started to go faster."

Though the organizers had already started handing out some of the medals by the time Carlson crossed the finish line, her time of 57.44 was still good enough to qualify for first place in the 80-89 year old division.

"I was still 89 -- my birthday was in three days," she said with a smile.

The guy who handed Carlson her medal asked her how many races she had been in before.

"This is my first one," she said. The other lady who was helping to give out the medals "hugged me real good," Carlson added.

After the medals were handed out, Carlson and her family continued on their way to Red Wing. When her son, Harvey, saw her get out of the car with her medal on, he started laughing and said, "Ma, I don't believe you!"

In fact, Carlson said, some of her nephews and nieces asked her, "Is this a joke or what?"

"No, it's real," Carlson responded -- and then showed them the medal and t-shirt she had received.

Her other son Richard, who lives in Bloomington, drove her back to Detroit Lakes after the celebration was over.

Though Carlson grew up in Erie Township, near Detroit Lakes, she and her three sisters moved to the Twin Cities during World War II, in search of employment. All of them ended up married to servicemen whom they met after moving there.

"My sisters and I all had really nice husbands," she added.

After marrying her husband Albert, Fran lived in Eagan, Minn., until 2001, when she moved back to Detroit Lakes to be nearer to her daughter, Colleen Schmit.

Carlson now makes her home in an apartment on the southeast end of Detroit Lakes. She enjoys volunteering in the mailroom at St. Mary's Innovis Health one day a week, and making quilts at Holy Rosary Church during the winter.

Though the Uff Da Run may have been her first race, Carlson said, it may not be her last. She is debating whether or not to enter this Saturday's Northwest Water Carnival Run in Detroit Lakes.

So what's her secret to staying in shape?

"I do a walk every day," she said. "It may not be three and a half miles, but I do a couple of blocks every day, except in the winter."

She also takes part in Gerry Rutledge's exercise class twice a week at Holy Rosary Church during the fall, winter and spring.

"We take the summer off," she said.

But her favorite activity, Carlson said, is "I go dancing every Sunday afternoon with a group of friends. I love to dance."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454