On his mark

By Rita Halter Thomas

Joe Rantisi of Maumelle, a 76-year-old marathon runner, found inspiration in the words, “You’re never too old to start.” When others tell him he’s too old for something, like running marathons, he asks a question in response. “What is old supposed to look like?” 

Rantisi, who still works full-time as Vice President of Stephens Real Estate Investments, LLC, said he always enjoyed walking, but two of his co-workers, both marathon runners, encouraged him to run, challenging him to train for a half-marathon. “They told me if I could walk that much, I could also run.” Rantisi started thinking about it, but shortly thereafter discovered he had prostate cancer. He chose surgery to address it.

Joe Rantisi ran the Little Rock Marathon in 2009 at age 62, only two years after he started running. His time was 4:53. He continues to run at age 76 and his goal is to build stamina rather than being concerned with his time. He stays on the trail by combining running and walking. Rantisi plans to run the Little Rock Marathon in March. “The Lord willing, I want to go till I reach 100,” he said. is first marathon after going through treatment for prostate cancer.

“I remember the night of the surgery. I said if God was going to let me out of here, I’m not only going to run a half-marathon, I’m going to run a full marathon.” Rantisi was determined to do it for himself but also to show his friends he could. On Aug. 28, 2006, his physician released and cleared him “to do whatever you want as long as you can handle it.” It was then Rantisi began running regularly. Just five months later, he ran his first marathon, only two-and-a-half  weeks short of his 60th birthday. 

At the time, Rantisi’s wife, Pam, wasn’t too thrilled, telling him he was too old to start. For inspiration, he put the words, “You’re never too old to start,” on an ID bracelet he wears when he goes running or walking. “People say, ‘You’re too old.’ I ask, ‘What age is too old? It’s just a number.’” Rantisi believes what matters is how a person feels and how they want to feel. “When I run, it’s because I want to feel good. And it does make me feel good.”

Rantisi admits to aches and pains, which are magnified in our latter years, so he trains for the long haul. He doesn’t set a goal for how fast he can run a mile, but how long he can stay out. “I measure by the hour, not by how many miles.” His goal is to be out five to six hours to build stamina and lung capacity, because that’s what it takes for a marathon on race day. He said it is important to pay attention to his body. Pushing too hard can mean setbacks, so he adjusts. Consistency and discipline are important. “I invest time in it—at least an hour for stretching and exercise every morning before I go to work.” Often, that includes a three-mile walk around the lake near his home, emphasizing his enjoyment doing so.

Rantisi has participated in several area races and runs the Little Rock Marathon every year. He has also raced in Memphis, Chicago, New York and Omaha, some multiple times.

Staying active hasn’t always been easy. He has fallen three times. One required an emergency room visit. He has overcome three lower back surgeries and a C3 neck fusion. He understands his wife’s concerns. Aging often means bones are more brittle, and healing and recovery take longer. “But she knows … I enjoy it. She lets me do it, reluctantly,” he laughed.

While an inspiration to many, Rantisi thanks God. “He got me this far, at this age, to do things possibly a lot of people half my age can’t do. That’s a glory to God, nobody else. It’s not my body. It’s not my discipline. God has allowed me and blessed me with whatever I need to keep doing what I do.” Inspiring others also brings Rantisi joy. “I was running my first race in Omaha, my knees were hurting so bad (my body was still adapting to it), and two young kids sitting on the grass saw all the knee braces I had and the stuff I had protecting me. All I heard was, ‘If this guy can do it, we can too.’” His advice to others? “Just get out there and do it.”

Rantisi and his wife will celebrate their 51st anniversary in April. Their daughter, Allison Gladden, lives nearby with her husband, Adam, and their son, Bob. After working full-time for the Stephens family since moving to Arkansas in 1994 as the General Manager of the Capital Hotel in Little Rock, Rantisi is finally contemplating retirement. While having mixed feelings about leaving people who are like family, he is looking forward to spending more time with his family, and perhaps adding something new he may enjoy as much or more.

Why not? After all, “you’re never too old to start.”