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Pandemic hasn't slowed down Markley
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Pandemic hasn't slowed down Markley

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When we first met Tony Markley almost two years ago, he was blazing a trail throughout the masters track and field circuit.

Then 65 years old, Markley was fresh off competing in the 2019 World Masters Athletics Outdoor Championships in Toronto, which is for athletes who are age 35 or older. He participated in 10 different events while there, notching silver medals in both the pentathlon and the high jump and finishing fourth in the 100 sprint and the 300 hurdles, fifth in the 200 sprint and 100 hurdles and sixth in the long jump.

Markley was also a key cog on the United States’ 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams, helping each set new world records on the way to capturing gold.

After nearly a decade of competing in national and multi-national meets such as that one, it appeared as if Markley was actually hitting his stride.

Culpeper man proving that age really is just a number

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and it hampered Markley—and the rest of the world—quicker than a bad charley horse.

“My wife and I were on our way down to Baton Rouge so I could compete in the National Masters Indoor Championships when the [pandemic] hit,” Markley said. “We were actually halfway across Tennessee, almost to Nashville, when we got the email that it was canceled.”

When he returned to his home in the Boston area of Culpeper County a few days later, Markley was greeted by even more bad news.

“Everything was shutting down,” he said. “The news just kept getting worse and worse.”

The spread of the coronavirus eventually wiped out the 2020 World Masters Outdoor meet, among other competitions Markley had planned on participating in. In addition, the shutdowns forced him to pull away from two key lifelines: fitness centers and running clubs.

“Even now, with [fitness centers and running clubs] back up and running, I’ve opted to stay away,” he said. “There’s too much at risk with the virus still spreading the way it is, new strains and so forth.”

The dramatic downturn in his daily routine left Markley with an important choice to make: rest on his laurels and wait for the world to return to normal, or figure out ways to remain active.

Without hesitation, he chose the latter.

“I use an app called Strava to track all of my physical activity,” he said. “There are monthly fitness challenges on there in regard to running, walking, hiking, cycling and so on that I’ve tapped into to stay active and engaged.”

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Markley has spent the past year running, hiking, walking and cycling in the countryside near his home. He’s also hiked Madison County’s Old Rag Mountain on four occasions and completed a 60-plus-mile bike ride that totaled over 4,000 feet of elevation.

“When you add up all the running, hiking and cycling, I’ve accumulated over 94,000 feet of elevation climbing over the last year,” he added.

All the strenuous activity has also enabled Markley to lose weight. While he hovered around 165 pounds prior to the pandemic, he’s now down below 155.

“That’s a good chunk of extra weight I’ve lost,” he remarked. “I’m very happy with that.”

Markley has also found time time tie his voracious appetite for fitness into a charitable cause. Last April, he participated in a quarantine challenge that benefited No Kid Hungry, a charity that raises money to combat child hunger. The event entailed running a minimum of 1.9 miles per hour over the course of 19 hours.

Markley racked up 40.8 total miles.

“That’s the most I’ve run in any one day ever,” he said. “I wouldn’t have gotten through it without my wife though; she was there to pick me up and bring me home at the end of every hour so I could eat and recover before going back out there.”

After receiving his first dosage of the COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, Markley is now hopeful that this summer’s World Masters Outdoor Championships will take place.

“They haven’t canceled it yet,” he said. “I’m hoping that things will get better, even little by little, and we can get back to having these events. That one in particular is like the Olympics for us seniors.”

Markley was 46 years old when his sons showed interest in trying out for their high school track and cross country teams. Wanting to help them decide what events they might be interested in participating in, he took them to an all-comers track meet at the Potomac Valley Track Club in Alexandria.

“I wanted them to try different things and see which ones they liked,” he said. “But I told them, ‘I’m not going to just sit around and wait for you while we’re here; I’m going to try out some things myself.’”

That one simple decision by Markley had far-reaching effects on his life that he couldn’t possibly have imagined at the time.

After retiring in May 2018, Markley decided to enter an all-comers meet in Charlottesville, where he opted to participate in the 100-meter sprint. Competing against two high-schoolers and three young adults, he clocked in at 14 seconds flat, finishing third.

Surprised at his own performance, Markley said he had an epiphany.

“The only two people that beat me were those two high-schoolers,” he said with a grin. “I realized that I may still have some wheels, so I began to get back into those types of events again after that.”

Markley entered the Delaware Senior Games after that, and he later competed in a national indoor meet in North Carolina in the winter of 2019, which was his final major event before that summer’s Toronto games.

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