TP man, wife closing in on milestone running streak
Tinley Park resident Jamie Parks takes his running seriously.
And in less than a year the 54-year-old is to approach a milestone many would find unfathomable – 25 years of running at least one mile each day.
Many of those runs have been completed with his wife, Lynn, who more than 30 years ago suffered a traumatic brain injury that left her unable to walk more than short distances. Jamie and Lynn run together with Jamie pushes his wife in a custom-made wheelchair.
A pair of streaks
Jamie said he and Lynn run together whenever the weather allows. But regardless of the forecast, Jamie gets his paces in. After all, he’s got a streak going that would impress even Joe DiMaggio.
“I have not missed a day of running going on 25 years,” Jamie said.
The streak started on Jan. 29, 1992. Lynn said that to keep the streak alive, Jamie has to run at least a mile a day as a minimum. There have been some close calls along the way, but he has always managed to get that mile or more in before time ran out. The obstacles have included things as small as the flu to bigger issues like stress fractures and even hernia surgery.
“Surgery was at 8 a.m. so I ran at 6 a.m.,” he said. “I had the surgery done, came home and the next day I waited until 10 p.m. and jumped on the treadmill to shuffle out a mile to keep the streak alive.”
Another time was when he was so wiped out by the flu, he fell asleep downstairs before being awoken with about 10 minutes to midnight. He hopped on the treadmill and got through the mile in time.
“I thought I was going to hurl all over everything, but I got it in,” he said, laughing. “I kept it going, but I know it will end someday. I want to get it to at least 25 years.”
The running bug appears to be genetic, as well, as their daughter Annalyn runs every day, and is on the Andrew High School cross country and track teams. She is an honors student with a GPA more than 4.0, and she’s in National Honor Society.
Annalyn also has a streak of her own going, working on eight years this August.
“I was almost 8, and I saw my dad had a streak and my parents were running all the time,” she said. “I thought, ‘This is kind of cool, and it doesn’t seem so bad. I might try this.’”
She started easy with just a mile a day. Then, as she worked her way up in distance, she ran her first race in Romeoville. “I got an age group award,” she said.
It is framed upstairs in their home — one of countless trophies or medals that adorn the shelves of their home. They even have two Olympic torches from the 2002 games, when Jamie and Lynn were able to pass the torch in Chicago.
In 2007, they were honored as Heroes of Running by Runner’s World magazine.
Milestone on the horizon
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Jamie and Lynn running together. He has kept runner’s logs since 1991, in case anyone ever questions his streak. Through those, he’s kept track of every mile they’ve done together.
“Lynn and I are coming up on 25,000 miles together, which is basically a lap around the world,” he said. “I’m trying to work it out to where we hit 25,000 miles on our anniversary date of when we started running — July 11.”
“If you haven’t noticed, he’s very obsessive,” Lynn said of her husband.
Funny asides like that are common for a duo who have gone through tragedy and triumph together, race by race and stride by stride.
Love outruns adversity
Lynn remembers that it was a friend of her’s that took her to that fateful party. She met Jamie while playing a card game.
“He said I was cheating by [looking] off his cards, but he was really cheating off mine,” she said.
Jamie remembers it differently, but what he knows for sure was the date of that party — May 18, 1985.
“It’s a day I’ll never forget,” he said.
Jamie said the two weren’t looking for relationships when they met, but when they found one another, it was a “whirlwind.”
“We got engaged two months to the day that we met,” he said. “We knew. I don’t know if it was love at first sight, but it was pretty close.”
They decided to wait until Lynn finished school to get married, so they planned to wed in October of 1987. At the time, she was enrolled at University of Illinois at Chicago to complete her degree. “But then stuff happened five months before the wedding,” Jamie said.
That something was a car accident that left Lynn comatose for 17 days, with countless broken bones and damaged body parts, and a traumatic brain injury. Right after the accident, when Jamie reached the hospital, he said he wasn’t getting good vibes from the medical staff in terms of Lynn’s condition.
“It was miraculous that she survived the first night,” he said.
It took about seven months for Lynn to speak, and Jamie said she was in various stages of awareness. After seven years of recovery and training, the two were married on May 14, 1994.
“Lynn didn’t want to get married until she could walk to some degree down the aisle of the church,” Jamie said. They moved to Tinley Park, and in August 1999, their daughter, Annalyn, was born.
‘We’re a team’
Jamie picked up the running bug after high school. He and a friend used to be members of the Riviera Country Club in Orland Park, and participated in some races the club sponsored. His friend lost interest, but for Jamie, his passion for the sport grew.
Lynn, meanwhile, would run after work to blow off steam. She also would come and watch Jamie at his races.
But when she’d go to see him after her accident, problems arose. One of those was that if she tried to see him at the finish line, she’d lose sight of him from people up front standing and waving.
One night, while watching the “Wide World of Sports” on television, Jamie and Lynn saw a story on a man pushing his son in a wheelchair.
“They were doing marathons, and I think we saw him doing an Iron Man triathlon,” Jamie said. “I told Lynn, ‘Why don’t we try this? Then, when I race, we’ll just be together, so we won’t have to worry about it.’ She thought I was out of mind, basically. It’s not the first time, and probably not the last time.”
At first, it was difficult.
“The first time we did it, I thought I was going to die,” Jamie said. “This was misery. [The path] was only 3 miles around, and it took us an hour. I was so out of shape. But we tried it again, and kept training.”
Their first race together was in 1991 at the Heart and Sole 10K in Olympia Fields.
“We got to the finish line, and everybody was cheering,” Jamie recalled. “We thought it was pretty cool, so we did it again the next year. And then we picked up another race. Now, I don’t even know the total, but we’re getting close to 300.”
Those include marathons in Chicago, Toronto and Boston. In Toronto, they finished in 3 hours and 15 minutes, which qualified them for the 2008 Boston Marathon. There, they finished in 3:24:46. Their fastest finish was in 1996 at the Chicago Marathon, when they had a time of 2:57:07.
He said people always ask him how he’s able to finish races — and do so as fast as they do — given he’s pushing Lynn with him.
“People say, ‘Just imagine how much faster you’d be if you ran without pushing Lynn,’” he said. “You know what, I don’t even want to know. We’re a team. We’re going to be a team racing together until God decides I’m not going to run anymore.”
Now 54, Jamie said he’s going to keep going with this as long as they can.