Many military members get to travel the world, but one retired Airman estimates he’s traveled at least 100,000 miles … on foot.
It’s a long road to reach 1,000 finish lines, but 75-year-old Joe Christian has completed 18 marathons, 200 biathlons, and countless half-marathons, 15, 10, and 5k races. He has also completed five Iron Man competitions, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run.
Christian first ran the Flatlander 5K in Lakeland, Ga., in 1978, and on Aug. 31, 2013, he ran the same race to mark his 1,000th organized run in 35 years.
He estimates he has run every day since he was 40 years old, and currently averages 52 miles per week. His secret? Exercise and good genes. His mother died at 93 and his father passed at 89. Mostly he attributes it to exercising.
“I get up and do Insanity exercise at 6 o’clock, anywhere from 40 to 60 minutes,” Christian said. “Then I go out and run five to 10 miles every day, except Saturday and Sunday. Saturdays I’m always racing, and Sunday I take a day off, sometimes.”
So far, only two things have slowed him down: stress fractures when he first started and a motorcycle accident in 2011. To combat the stress fractures, he now buys new shoes every 300 miles; roughly every six weeks.
“I got broke up two years ago in a motorcycle accident,” he said. “But I did go to a road race with a neck brace and back brace, and won my age group,” he said with a grin. “The doctor saw me and he said, ‘You’re not supposed to be running.’ And I said OK.”
Today, his right shoulder is technically still broken, but he hasn’t bothered with corrective surgery. Doctors said the operation would cause him to lose about 50 percent of his range of motion. Christian chuckled as he reached over his head and tapped himself on the opposite shoulder. “It don’t bother me one bit,” he added.
Aside from his lingering motorcycle injury, Christian is the picture of health. He said he eats a lot of protein and takes 14 separate vitamins each day. His only prescription medication is to keep his cholesterol in check.
He was once thrown out of a hospital for not being sick enough for the intensive care unit.
“I took some [cold medicine] and had a reaction and it gave me shortness of breath. They put me in ICU and I stayed in ICU that night and the next day they put me on step down and put a monitor on me. I didn’t have anything to do, and got bored, so I got up and did some sit-ups. They came running and said ‘You’re crazy. You cannot do that. We need this bed here for people who are sick.’”
He was discharged from the hospital shortly after.
Christian retired as a master sergeant in 1976, and said he enjoyed his time with the Air Force.He worked in various Air Force specialties, including maintenance, hydraulics and engines. He was also one of the Air Force’s last enlisted pilots.
“I had plans on retiring,” he said. “I was going till I retired from day one. It’s wonderful. The Air Force was wonderful to me. It let me go to 108 countries.”
Those 108 countries include three tours in Vietnam, and service in Germany, Spain, Okinawa and Thailand. On active duty, he flew the Cessna O-1 “Bird Dog” and has some seat time as a C-130E co-pilot. Between military and civilian aviation experience he has close to 9,000 hours as a pilot.
After retiring from the Air Force, Christian also retired from the U.S. Postal Service. When he’s not running, he is enjoying his retired life and has quite a few hobbies.
He has accumulated quite the “man cave,” which is an aircraft hangar on his property in Naylor, Ga. He owns five motorcycles, four boats, two trucks, a 39-foot motor home, and three airplanes – two Starduster IIs and one Piper J3 Cub. Two of the aircraft are torn down right now and Christian spends his free time rebuilding them.
“I’ve got two ponds I can fish in and I keep my grass mowed on the runways, and build airplanes in the meantime. That keeps me busy,” he said. “I ride motorcycles, water ski … and I’ve got my own airport right in the middle of the military operation area with two 3,200-foot runways.”
Originally from Tazewell, Va., Christian has lived in Naylor, for 33 years. He and his wife of 56 years, Marlene, have two sons: Randy and Kevin. Neither son can keep up with the old man, Christian joked.
During the awards ceremony following Christian’s 1,000th race, Randy had a few words of encouragement for his dad.
“When I was 12, he challenged me … and that was the challenge I haven’t been able to fill. He said, ‘You’re a man now. I’m going to teach you to fill my shoes.’ In 47 years I have not been able to do it. I’d like to give those shoes back, if you don’t mind,” Randy laughed as he presented his father with a new pair of running shoes.
With his most recent Flatlander 5K marking 1,000 race finishes, Christian decided to celebrate by doing what he does best: he ran race 1,001 two days later in Valdosta.