Most runners are at least thinking about wrapping up the athletic portion of their lives at the age of 70. Henry Sypniewski was just getting started.
Sypniewski, who died Sunday night at the age of 93, had an absolutely unique career in his chosen sport. His name is scattered throughout the national record books for his achievements, having set several age-group records while running for more than two decades.
"I don't know how he did it at that age," said his wife, Helen. "Oh, how he loved running. You couldn't stop him, in all weather, no matter how he felt."
Sypniewski, of South Cheektowaga, fought in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and worked as a machinist. He had boxed in his youth, and apparently needed an outlet for his competitive urges in retirement.
Sypniewski helped get recognition to runners of all ages.
"They never had age-group awards [for those] over 50," said Ted Sullivan of Williamsville when Sypniewski turned 90. "He wrote letters to all the race directors as he progressed along, and he brought all the old guys with him."
Years later, he wrote letters saying that it wasn't fair for him to compete against those "youngsters" in an 80-and-above age-group.
Sypniewski also was as tough as any runner in a given race. One time in his late 80s during the Shamrock Run, he took a nasty spill on a bridge that forced him to clean up some blood from his clothes after the finish. When asked about it, he simply said, "Aw, I'll get over it."
Sypniewski set American records for the fastest half-marathon by a 90-94 runner (3 hours, 3 minutes and 56 seconds), and at 15-kilometers by an 85-89 runner (57:33). He was an eight-time runner of the year in his age group for USA Track and Field, going from 1998 to 2010.
While health issues kept Sypniewski off the roads for the most part in the last several months, he still had two great runs left in him. At the national Masters 5-kilometer championship in Syracuse in October, Sypniewski finished in 47:38. The old record was 1:01:07.
"They pleaded with me to come," Sypniewski said later. "When I got to the finish line, they were all cheering. I was dead tired, and I was sore."
"His 'peers' -- from former Olympians still in their 40's and 50's to gentlemen in their 80's hoping to still be competing in their 90's -- knew better than anyone else how remarkable his achievements were," said Dave Oja, director of the Syracuse Festival of Races.
Then Sypniewski topped himself about a month later, covering the 5K distance in 45:47 at the Bob Ivory Run. It was his last race.
Sypniewski, who died of stomach cancer according to Helen, received plenty of recognition for his achievements over the years. He always said that he hoped he could inspire people to stay active.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at St. John Kanty Church on Monday at 10 a.m.