News & Features » News and Features

Word & Image

Samuel Stephens Jr., 82: Veteran, racquetball player, retired runner.


In nearly three decades, Stephens ran more than 420 races in Central Virginia and logged more than 58,000 miles. That's like running twice around the Earth, plus a few victory laps.

When I retired from the Army [in 1972], I used to go to Byrd Park and run. Try to keep my weight down. Get exercise. I was at the park running one day, and this lady was running along with me. … She said, “Do you ever run in the local races?” I say, “No, I'm not good enough ….” She said, “Yes you are! We done did about seven miles and you not even breathing hard!”

She gave me an application for a race that Saturday at Eastgate Mall. I went out there and I ran that race. I enjoyed it so. After that I joined two different roadrunner clubs, and I used to go within a hundred miles and run every Saturday, run every weekend. During that time I got all these different trophies and things. … Every time somebody come visit me or something I would give them a trophy. So I got rid of a lot of them. You can pick out one, too, if you want to.

I was born in Evergreen, Ala. My father was a schoolteacher. … He got killed [in a car accident] when I was 9. And that thing hurt me even right now, hurt me today. He used to take me with him everywhere he went.

I got out of high school when I was 17, and I went into the Army. … They shipped me out to Japan. I did three years in Japan and then after that came back to the States … and then they shipped me off to Korea.

I was a combat engineer. I used to operate crane and shovel. We'd build a bridge and they'd blow it up and we had to build it back. … Vietnam, my first tour over there I was in Da Nang, I was assigned to the 3rd Marine Division. I was on special assignment, and my job was retrograde. … I had a special team from the Republic of China. They wasn't supposed to be there. This was a top-secret mission. And we would go out and gather up the damaged equipment. … They'd take five Jeeps, and make one good Jeep out of it. Them people were smart. They could put that stuff together.

I went to Vietnam twice. I was lucky to get back. I'm just blessed to be here, and I thank the good Lord every day. 'Cause a lot of my friends didn't make it back.

I worked 36 and a half years in the post office, and never was late and never missed a day the whole time I was working. … I just did it. Being in the military, one thing they teach you: Being on time. Time means so much.

I can't run. I can't run. But I still play racquetball. … I move slow, but I still can move.

Add a comment