Debbie Pryatel (left) and Tony Pryatel (right) run in the early 1980s. George Half Marathon. (Photographs of the Pryatel family)
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HOLY. GEORGE – “Has it really been that long?” Apple Valley’s 76-year-old Tony Pryatel said when he read the e-mail registration he received from the St. Half Marathon. George.
This year, the St. Half Marathon will be celebrated on Saturday. George was 40 years old and Tony Pryatel was there at the very first race, which took place in 1982. So he did what he always did – he entered the race, along with his wife Debbie Pryatel (71), who will take part in the 5K.
It started as a small town race when St. George by what many would consider a small town. In fact, it was the bait of the small town that brought Tony Pryatel to the starting line that day.
“We lived in Las Vegas at the time and we were both from smaller cities,” Tony Pryatel recalled. “We miss the feeling of a small town, and because St. George wasn’t too far away, it sounded like a great place to get away and run.”
Tony Pryatel, who was 36 at the time, ran just a few years after being inspired by his employee.
“I was a heavy equipment operator who operated a trench machine, and a guy who was 40 years old who worked much better than I worked had more energy for me,” he recalled. “I was 215 pounds at the time and I thought I was pretty strong, but this guy had a lot more energy than me and he was older. I asked him what kept him so fit, and he told me he was a runner. “
He said he started training and eventually got to where he could not only run a half marathon, but do it pretty well.
In fact, when the first half marathon was run, St. George, finished in 1 hour and 29 minutes, which is less than seven minutes per mile average. Tony Pryatel said he liked the experience so much that he decided he wanted to run the race every year.
The following year, his wife joined him, and since then both races – whether it is a half marathon or 5 km – have been run every year.
The couple said that the “hobby” they pursue together kept them close, which is evident in their 55-year-old marriage. They also said running would probably keep at least one of them alive.
“In 2010, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor,” Tony Pryatel said. “I spent six weeks in the hospital, twice, for treatment. The nurses said running was probably what saved me.”
In the year the tumor was discovered, Tony Pryatel led St. George Half and his tumor was removed in August. He said that when he was in the hospital, he and his wife were walking around a nearby river.
“It’s our Superman,” Debbie Pryatel said. “We’re all proud of him.”
Both Tony and Debbie admit that age was a factor that slowed them down on the track, but they do not plan to quit any time soon.
“Running is a hobby in a way these days,” said Debbie Pryatel. “You get what you put into it, and we’ve benefited a lot from running, and we plan to get a lot more out of it over time.”
40th year The George Half Marathon will be held Saturday at the Dixie Convention Center at 1835 S. Convention Center Drive.