After the surgeon had drawn where he planned to make the incision on her back, Della Hitchcox asked for his black marker. She took it, held up her palm and wrote B2B and 8/7/10.
“I thought that would be a good reminder of what I was supposed to do,” said Hitchcox, who turned 80 in April. “It was my goal. It was to inspire me to get well, get out of there and get (exercising) again.”
Four months after undergoing surgery to fuse three discs, completing the 13th TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10K Road Race this Saturday remains her goal. She first ran it — well, to be sure, she did more walking than running — in 2007 along with nine family members, including all four of her children and two grandsons.
She finished third in her age group.
“Even as a teenager, going shopping with her at the mall, I would have to jog to keep up,” said Jennifer Hitchcox, who at 37 is Della’s youngest daughter. “She power-walked.”
In Cape Elizabeth, the Beach to Beacon race means different things to different people. For some, it’s an opportunity to open their home to an elite runner from a foreign land. For others, it’s a neighborhood gathering, a chance for the kids to hand out cups of water. Still others view it as an excuse to leave town rather than deal with the traffic, crowds and road closures.
For the Hitchcox family, the race has become a reunion.
For many years, they were observers in the early part of the race. Della Hitchcox lives in Shore Acres, which spills into Old Ocean House Road not far beyond the 2-mile marker.
“The first few years, I thought, ‘Why would anyone run it? That looks like torture,”‘ said Jennifer, who moved from Maine to Seattle last year but is spending the summer back home with her mom. “Then there were a few years of, ‘well, maybe.’ Now, I’m hooked.”
Della’s sister-in-law, Midge Philbrook, lives outside of Toronto. She was the first family member to run Beach to Beacon. Then Paul Hitchcox — the oldest son who lives in Hollis Center and graduated from Cape Elizabeth High a year behind race founder Joan Benoit Samuelson — joined the fun. Mark Hitchcox brought his wife and two sons from Vermont to run.
Jennifer and her older sister, Susan Gallo, of Cumberland, decided in 2006 they would join their brothers for the 2007 race. Jennifer has since run half marathons in Bar Harbor and Seattle, and last year completed her first marathon.
“I remember having my first endorphin rush,” she said. “I had gone for a run and I was making dinner and thought, ‘Did I pour myself a glass of wine?’ I had this great sense of well-being. I was hooked.”
Gallo, like Della Hitchcox, is a breast cancer survivor. Gallo competed in each of the first two Tri for a Cure all-women triathlons in South Portland and convinced her younger sister to join her in the third, a week after Beach to Beacon.
“I’m definitely not an athlete,” Gallo said. “But the nice thing about the Tri, and about Beach to Beacon, is that anybody can. Obviously, you have to train and get some decent equipment, but they’re both achievable by anybody.”
Then again, when you’re 80 and coming off back surgery and you had a setback because, against the wishes of your children, you decided the kitchen floor needed a good scrubbing, well, covering those 6.2 miles isn’t easy.
Which is why Della, whose husband, Douglas, died suddenly of a heart attack in 1977 when the children ranged in age from 4 to 18, came up with a plan. She and her good friend and neighbor, Betsy French, who is 69, have been walking together for years. So many years, Della said, that “we’re called the Shore Acres Streetwalkers.”
So when the surgeon pegged her recovery period at somewhere between six and 12 months, Della figured that was for more sedentary folks. With Betsy by her side, Della aimed for three miles by the end of May, and made it.
Progressing to four miles by the end of June and five by the end of July — “ and if I can do five, I can do six (in the race),” Della said — never happened. Even so, Della remains optimistic. She wants to hear the voices of her grandchildren at the top of the switchback inside the gates of Fort Williams, cheering: “Go Gramma!”
Friday, she’ll have her bib number. On Saturday morning, she’ll be at the starting line. Whether she continues all the way to Fort Williams after passing Turkey Hill Farm at Mile 2 or simply turns right into Shore Acres for the stroll home remains to be seen.
“I know she would like to do it,” Gallo said. “We’re all hopeful.”
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: