Sergio Bianchini didn't start running until he was 60, but he hit the ground moving faster than most when he did and he has yet to slow down.
This guy just celebrated his 73rd birthday on February 25 and he doesn't run as much as you might think, but he's been a dominant force in his age group since the beginning. And he's totally dominated the Runner of the Year competition in the Chattanooga Track Club as he's been the winner of the 60 and over category every year except one since he started.
Bianchini used to live in Siena, a small town not far from Florence, before he moved to America back in 1976 and to Chattanooga some eight years later. He quickly admits that he wasn't involved in sports in earlier years, but that he enjoys tennis, kayaking and group exercise classes at the downtown YMCA during his spare time.
Sergio is really a soft-spoken fellow and certainly doesn't create a lot of chaos when he's around, but running is something that he got really good at in a hurry when he finally decided to give it a try.
"I met Tommy Nichols and he's the one who talked me into running the first time. It took quite a while as my first 5K was more than 28 minutes, but I started winning age group trophies pretty quick," he recalled with a smile.
And while he has more state records than he can remember, running has really been an important part of his life after his wife Paula passed away following a surgical procedure back on Sept. 4. They had been married for 24 years and are the proud parents of 23-year-old Marco, but Paula had not even turned 50 when she died, so her passing has been a really tough fact for him to accept.
"She died right before her 50th birthday and I miss her more than anything every day. She was my soul mate, but running has helped ease the pain from her loss" Sergio said in his soft tone during our interview in the lobby of the downtown Y.
Sergio only runs between 15 and 20 miles per week, but he's become a regular at marathons and ultramarathons. He most recently ran a 1:43 at the Scenic City Half-Marathon after having completed the Black Warrior 50K the weekend before.
He's the veteran of some 20 marathons with a personal best of 3:37. He's more concerned with the social aspect of running than a fast time, but when you run like he does at his age, those age group awards just come pouring in naturally.
"I enjoy the fellowship of those around me when I run and I very seldom run alone. I just like being with people and I always run with a group, but I don't do much," he added, downplaying really how fast he is for someone his age.
Sergio's work history involves motel management and he's also been the owner of a couple of convenience stores here in Chattanooga. He learned how to move quickly on the job.
"I had to walk fast when I was doing my motel work and that's where I developed my leg strength. I was used to working long hours, so I didn't do much in the way of physical fitness," he explained.
While Sergio prefers shorter distances like 10K or even a 15K, his longest run came about seven years ago when he signed up for the Land Between the Lakes 100K in Kentucky. He didn't make it the full distance as bad weather forced him to stop at 40 miles.
"That was a hard run. It had snowed about nine inches the night before the race and my feet were frozen the whole time. I was supposed to go 62 miles, but I only got through 40," he recalled that memorable experience.
"The longer races hurt, especially in the last few miles and those long ones take too many hours. But running helps my spirit and gives me a lot of serenity. It also keeps me fit. I weighed 135 pounds when I started. Now I weight about 117," he said matter of factly.
His son Marco has really turned into an outstanding runner and the proud father is just waiting for his marathon times to drop so they can go to Boston together.
"Marco runs most of the races with me, but there are a lot of good people in the Chattanooga Track Club. Marco wants me to do an Ironman and I'm thinking about it, but it's kind of expensive. We're volunteering for the one here and I haven't decided yet, but that would definitely take more training and it would be a huge challenge," he spoke as he thought out loud just what would be involved to doing such an event.
"I've slowed down in the last few years. I'm a competitor, but I think my fast days are over. But I have a lot of fun when I pass these young fellows in races. I turn to them and ask if they're going to let a 70-year-old man beat them? I get some unique responses," he nodded.
If you go to the downtown YMCA on just about any given morning, you'll find Sergio in a group class. He does Boot Camp, Cardio Blast, Pump and Pilates classes on a regular basis and he even does a Spin class from time to time.
One constant in this routine is that he's normally the only man in the class and surrounded by good-looking young ladies. There's no question that they inspire him, but chances are good that he inspires them as well.
Running has been a good thing for this fellow and he's made a bunch of friends in the process.
We all know that running is a great source for physical fitness, but this man is also finding out that it offers so much more than that.
He says that he's slowing down, but you'd never know it by his race times.
(This is the third in a series of features on runners in the Chattanooga Track Club, including members, officers, volunteers and sponsors. If you have a suggestion or a comment or even a question, please email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@Comcast.net)