By Sam Jack
CHENEY – Though he shows few signs of kicking the bucket, Cheney resident Tom Snook put together a “bucket list” for his 70th year. He has been steadily checking off the items on the list.
On April 16, he completed the Boston Marathon. Check.
On Aug. 18 and 19, he took on an even more difficult challenge, racing a half-marathon up Colorado’s Pikes Peak before returning to the mountain the following day and running a full marathon up the peak, and then back down.
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“I’ve got this funky philosophy: I believe a person should do more as they get older, rather than less,” Snook said. “You never really have to quit doing anything because of age. There may be other reasons, but not age. The body’s built to work. … As long as you keep working and never quit, you can do it till your last breath.”
Snook graduated from Cheney High School and went on to Wichita State University, graduating in 1972.
“When I graduated from WSU, I was in bad shape,” he recalled. “I got out of shape, going to school and working full time. I went to play basketball, and I couldn’t really do it. So in May of 1972, I made a personal vow never to be physically limited again. I’ve kept that vow for 46 years. I just cannot stand being out of shape.”
Snook retired from a career at Cessna eight years ago and spent a full week unemployed. He hated that week.
“It was just a feeling like, ‘I’m kind of useless to the world now,’” he said. “So I got on the Internet.”
He applied to work at the Dillons at Maple and 135th in Wichita. Within minutes of hitting “submit” on his computer, he got a call from an HR person.
“She said, ‘We hire retired folks because they have the work ethic and they do their job right.’ I’ve been there ever since,” Snook said.
Snook requested and got one of the most demanding jobs at Dillons, wrangling shopping carts in the parking lot. He loves the physicality of the work, as well as the opportunity to socialize with customers.
“I’ve got a lot of friendships I’ve established over the last six months, and I look forward to going to work,” he said.
He has also enjoyed getting to know the other “cart boys,” most of them much younger than himself.
“Some of them listen to me very intently. I tell these young kids, ‘You can have that same waistline in 50 years, if you want to,’” he said. “I don’t know if I have an impact; I may just lose friends. … You don’t know until you see them 10 years later if they took your advice or not.”
Snook put quite a bit of pressure on himself with his bucket list this year, and he has encountered challenges along the way.
One challenge was that the 2018 Boston Marathon took place on a historically miserable, cold and rainy day. As Snook was running, he got chilled to the bone. He was able to finish after a spectator handed him a poncho. Only about two percent of marathon runners in the U.S. have qualified for and completed the Boston Marathon, the premier event in the sport.
After Boston, it was time to start training for the Pikes Peak Double. A hamstring injury kept him on a reduced exercise schedule for several weeks, leading him to worry if he would be properly conditioned.
One way to train for the high-altitude challenge was running in extreme heat. He ran 10 miles through the hills of eastern Kingman County, on a 100-degree day.
“You have to know your body, carry plenty of water. Do it the right way and you won’t die,” he said.
The Pikes Peak Ascent race on Saturday was one he had competed in several times before, and it went smoothly.
“What made it so tough was descending the mountain on Sunday,” he said. “We Kansans are not used to that. Those folks out there practice on their mountain, and they’re really good descenders. When you descend a mountain, your legs are so tired, and the last thing you want to do is fall going down a mountain.”
Snook kept his eyes glued to the trail and tried to be cautious, but he still fell down twice.
“I was just kind of conscious that I was really tired. But like the Boston thing, I finished. I may never do it again, but I finished. I’ll probably stick to the ascent; downhill is the craziest,” he said.
Snook previously ran the Boston Marathon when he turned 60, and he is already looking forward to running it again to celebrate his 80th birthday. Being physically active is a “have-to” for him, something he intends to keep up until his last day.
“My intention is to live every day the same, regardless of age,” he said.