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Jeanne RiceMythbuster: Jeannie Rice

Realtor & Athlete

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On a sunny and brisk fall afternoon, fit and Road Runner fast Jeannie Rice shared her memories about moving to America when she was just 19, the joys of running — which she says refreshes and recharges her — and why she thinks aging well means more than just eating smart and getting enough exercise.

Tell us a bit about your early years: when and where you were born and raised, what your parents did, and where you are in the sibling line-up.
I was born April 14, 1948, in Seoul, [South] Korea, and lived there till I was 19. My dad worked for the government. My mom never worked. She was a stay-at-home mom, with 8 children to look after. I was the fifth child and the third daughter, so she was a very busy mother.

You grew up in and went to school in Korea. What were you good at/not so good at?
I was always good at English. In Korea, by the time you reached 6th grade you had to take English, one hour a day at first — and I was always good in math. [Laughs] I wasn't very good at history. I wasn't interested in it at that time, but I am now.

And I was always active. But not in athletics. In Korea, girls didn't participate in sports then — we are talking over 50 years ago when I was in junior high and high school — because there was nothing for them. I took a dancing class, and I rode a bike, and we did a lot of ice skating, too because where we grew up there aren't many mountains, but there were a lot of ponds and small lakes, and [ice skating] was a winter activity for us — the whole family.

What brought you to the US, and when did you come?
I came here in 1968. I'd completed high school and my freshman year in college [in Korea], and my older sister was already here, and married, and living in Lake County. She wanted me to come over here and go to nursing school. But when I started college here, at Lakeland Community College, I ended up taking more and more business courses. First I owned a dry cleaning business, but I eventually ended up being a Realtor.

What got you interested in becoming a Realtor?
My sister was in Real Estate. She asked me to try it, to see if I might like being a Realtor. I saw the way she worked, the hours she worked — especially on Saturdays and Sundays — and I told her: No way.

But she kept telling me that she thought I'd be good at it, to try it. So I gave it a shot and I worked hard. [Laughs] My manager, back then, said that I was the first one into the office and the last one to leave and my first year I sold 28 homes. And I was Rookie of the Year.

But there are a lot of similarities in nursing and being a realtor, so I know that — because I really do like to take care of people and nurture them — I'd have been a good nurse, too.

This was a new a new culture, a new country, a new language. Were you scared coming here?
Not really. The language wasn't that much of a problem. I'd been studying [English] since sixth grade and while conversation was tough at first, I could always read — books, the paper — and understand things.

And, from the time I'd been little, my dream — and goal — had always been to travel, to visit places and see things, to go around the world. There was really no room — or reason — for being scared.

What got you interested in running?
In 1983 — almost 30 years ago — I went back to Korea to visit, with my three sisters and my mom. All our relatives thought we were starving here in America, so every time we visited someone they had a feast prepared for us. It didn't matter if it was lunch or dinner, it was a feast, and to be polite we had to eat.

Three weeks later, when we came home, I'd gained 7 pounds. And 7 pounds was a lot for me because I'm 5 fee 2 inches.

I wanted to lose that 7 pounds — like tomorrow. And, even though I'd never run before, I started jogging. First it was around our neighborhood: that was a quarter mile. And before I knew it I was running in a 5 mile race with a friend who'd been running for years. She placed third and I placed fourth. And that was it. I was hooked.

I didn't realize I had a gift — I wouldn't call it a talent — for running, but I did. And I know I'm lucky, too, because I've been running all these years without injury.

The next year, I decided to run the Cleveland Marathon [26.2 miles]. My time was 3 hours and 45 minutes, and I'm still kicking that down. This April [in Toledo] was 3 hours and 33 minutes, which means that I'm running faster than I was running almost 30 years ago.

So you placed 4th in your first race. When and where did you win your first competition?
My first win was the Johnnycake Jog in Lake County. Since I've started running I've run between 20 and 30 races a year — more in the beginning, around 15-20 a year. Now, I run more marathons than short-distance runs, so I've probably run at least 800 races, from 5 Ks to marathons. And right now I'm getting ready for my 85h Marathon, in two weeks. My 86th will be Cape Coral, Florida, in December. That will make 7 marathons this year. And, to celebrate my 30 years in running, I'm doing the Boston Marathon, next year.

[Laughs] I guess you could say I'm competitive.

No one gets as good as you are at running — as of this interview you've run 84 marathons — without coaches and mentors. So, who were your coaches & mentors & role models?
I've never had a coach: my friends who run say I'm a natural runner. But I'm also very disciplined. I get up in the morning and it [running] is the first thing I do. And I read running magazines, and pick up tips from the articles. And I try to run with people who are younger than I am because they keep me motivated. And — I wouldn't call this luck, because I listen to my body — I've never had an injury. A lot of people push themselves and get injured. I don't. If I'm supposed to run 50 miles, I stop at 50 miles. I don't push past that and get so exhausted I injure myself.

I've run all over — Iceland, Prague, on the Great Wall in China, in London, Paris, Dublin, New Zealand, Stockholm, Spain, Bermuda, etc. — and I know that I'm combining two things, the love of travel and seeing new places and the love of running and competing.

My husband doesn't run, but he's a good cheerleader, and he figured out that, given how much I run, both in competitions and practicing during the week, that I've run "around" the globe twice, and I'm finishing up the final miles on the third go around. [Laughs] All my friends say I'm an android, not human.

What about your kids, do they run?
I have two sons, Dr. Allen Rice, who works out and hikes all the time, and Kevin, who, with his wife Tricia are runners. And I have two granddaughters, Alyssa, who is 12, and Bailey, who is 7. Alyssa and I have run four 5K races together this year.

At 64 — soon to be 65 — you're a full-time realtor, a community volunteer (and received the City of Concord's Good Neighbor Award a couple of years ago), a doting grandmother, and — depending on the season — you golf, ski and run. And you travel a lot, too. How do you do it? In other words, where does all the energy come from?
First of all, I'm disciplined and organized and very good at time management. And I only need about 7 hours of sleep to get up refreshed. Usually that's around 6 a.m. — unless we are doing a 20 mile run, then it's earlier — and by 9 a.m. I'm in the office. Since I'm a realtor, I can spend time with my grandkids in the afternoon and work in the evening. I take my laptop everyplace, so that means I can work anywhere. [Laughs] When I was in Stockholm — doing a marathon — I sold two houses.

I've always been this — well — energetic. And when I have "down" time, I never just sit and watch TV, I do something. For instance, if I have the grandkids, we go to the park and swim in the summer or we go skiing in the winter time.

You are slim and trim. Do you have a special diet?
I like healthy food, but my diet's not special, though I tend not to eat fattening foods — cake, pie, fried foods. My favorite meal is a field green salad with grilled salmon — I've always liked fish, even as a child I could live without meat. [Laughs] But I have to admit, I love ice cream.

I eat a lot of vegetables and fruit, too. That may have to do with how I grew up: We ate a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit, and rice, and that's followed me through life.

You know, when I think about it, all my family is trim, and none of them are runners, though they are all athletic, so there could be some genetics there, too.

Aside from running to keep in shape for marathons, do you do any other "working out?"
Normally, two or three times a week, I work out with light weights because runners need upper-body strength, too. And I do push-ups, and push-offs [from the wall], too. But I don't do any leg exercises. That's all taken care of with the running.

You're very athletic. A lot of people think competing in sports and meets is "all about winning." What do you think?
I don't think my running is all about winning, but winning is part of why I compete and run. But if I don't win, I don't mind. That's probably because I'm not really competing against the other runners, I'm competing against myself, against my own best time for that event.

I put everything I can into [a race] and do the best that I can do. [I]n that sense, I win because I do the best that I can. But it's still fun to compete, too: that encourages you to do your best.

Next summer The National Senior Games (http://www.nsga.com/2013-national-games) will be in Cleveland. Will you be competing? And if so, in what sports?
Definitely, I'll be competing in the 5 K road race. If they had a marathon race [26.2 K], I'd compete in that, too. [Chuckles] I'd be competing in the Game's 10 K Road Race, but to do that I had to qualify in the Ohio 10 K qualifying race, and the same day that was run there was also a full marathon race. I ran the marathon — and came in first in my age division — but that [race] didn't qualify me for the 10 K at the National Games next year.

At 64, you're active and employed. Have you made any retirement plans?
No, not in the near future, anyway. With the career I have, I always work less actually retiring. If I do quit, and I haven't thought that far ahead, really, I'll probably be volunteering in the community.

[Laughs] Running? I'll do that till I can't. There are so many marathons "out there" that now [with 85 done] I'm shooting for 100. I'm thinking about running in Russia — St. Petersburg — next year.

Myth Busters is all about aging successfully. At 64, you're definitely aging well. What's your definition of successful aging?
You can't say that aging well is due to just one thing. To age healthy you have to eat right: that's a big factor in aging well. And you have to exercise, not necessarily heavy exercise but definitely activity that keeps you moving. And you have to get enough sleep and the right kind of sleep. You have to keep your mind active and engaged and motivated: you grow old when you stop doing things.

And you have to take time for yourself, take time to recharge, take time to unwind from the everyday stress that comes with just living. For me, that's when I'm running. There's no phone, no work, peace of mind.

What did I not ask that I should have?
How people should be defining "winning." To me everyone is a winner — any race, any thing you do — when you cross the finish line.

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