Gwen Campbell, 72, is proof that it’s never too late and you’re never too old. Although she didn’t become a runner until age 62, she’s completed a half marathon in every state and has run six full marathons. And she’s not quitting anytime soon.

Lacing up her running shoes

A North Carolina native who now resides in Bartlett, Gwen was the bursar at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center for many years until she retired in 2015. Fitness was encouraged at UTHSC, and Gwen stayed active and participated in 5K races regularly. However, in early 2011, Gwen’s doctor informed her that the high cholesterol that ran in her family was starting to impact her and that she would need to improve her diet and activity levels. Determined to stay off medication, Gwen decided to get serious about running. She joined a running group in April 2011 and participated in her first half marathon a few months later.

Bouncing back from injury

Just as Gwen’s running career was starting to take off, it was almost derailed by a major injury. In 2012, she suffered a hip fracture and was told she would never be able to run more than six miles at a time. A year later, Gwen signed up for what she thought was a 10K race, a six-mile distance, in Batesville, MS. However, it turned out to be a ten-mile race that Gwen not only finished but placed in the top runners of her age group. “I figured if I could do a ten miler, what was stopping me from going even further?” Gwen remarks.

Running all over the country

And go further she did: Gwen completed more than 50 half marathons all over the United States in the last ten years and six full marathons. Of all the races she’s completed, a highlight was the Detroit Free Press Marathon, an international race where she had the opportunity to run through the Detroit-Windsor tunnel and into Canada. Although Gwen loves to travel for races, she also participates in some of Memphis’ most notable running events. “My favorite local race is definitely St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend,” Gwen says. “I just love to see the kids out there cheering and supporting the mission of St. Jude. There’s really nothing else like it.”

Fueled by support

From family to friends to her church community, Gwen has a large support system. A dedicated mother and grandmother, Gwen is occasionally joined by her children and grandchildren for races. Even when they aren’t running alongside her, her family is always cheering her on. “For my longer races, my kids are always tracking me and making sure I’m where I’m supposed to be on the route,” Gwen remarks. “And when I’m crossing the finish line, the first thing I want to do is see my kids.”

“I figured if I could do a ten miler, what was stopping me from going even further?”

Gwen is also part of a close-knit running community that’s made up of about 15 people, largely women. When they’re not traveling to races around the country, they can be found running on the Greenline every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

Running into the future

Gwen has no plans to slow down any time soon. Her running group is planning to travel to Spain in the near future, and she hopes to have the opportunity to participate in the highly competitive runDisney race in the next couple of years.

“I’m ready to make up for the time I lost during COVID and the races I missed in 2020,” Gwen says.

By Lucy Harrison
Photo by Kim Thomas