First, you hear her feet hit the pavement, then you catch a glimpse — it takes a second for it to settle in: this isn’t something you normally see.
The sight? Sister Beth Wood, 88, moving towards you at a pace women half her age would be proud to show off during the morning walk around the mall.
You won’t catch her running at the mall, though. You’ll find her making her typical 3-mile run around the grounds at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Monroe. She’s only missed two days this year.
“Just to cross that finish line,” she said, smiling later in the day. “That’s always been my goal.”
She’ll tell you speed isn’t her game, but her running is better than she’ll let on.
Wood, a retired nun, has run marathons — one every year in the 80s — both in the United States and abroad. She told 7 Action News that once she crossed a finish line for the first time she was hooked.
Believe it or not, she didn’t start running until she was in her 50s. Her brother invited her to run a 7-mile race that started in Detroit’s Hines Park. She finished, and slowly began to run more and more races.
Though the runs lengthened, her routine has remained mostly the same.
To this day, the 88-year-old starts her morning with a prayer. She asks God for a safe run, prays for her fellow IHM nuns and thanks him for the work the women who came before her have accomplished that makes her life possible. She also makes a loop through the cemetery and says a silent prayer for the nuns that are buried on the grounds.
“Then the priests are just thinking about getting up,” she said, laughing — making sure to note she’s only kidding. “No, not really. They’re already up!”
Wood will tell a joke, tell a story and then start all over again. She’s lived the type of life that makes her worth listening to whether you have an evening, or just a few minutes.
She’s worked as an English teacher and a librarian. Her work took her to Rome where she worked at the historic Casas Santa Maria — known to some as the ‘House on Humility Street.’
During her time in Rome, Wood met Mother Theresa while working in a soup kitchen. She also received a blessing from Pope John Paul II before she ran a marathon in Rome.
“It was very special, a super special race for me,” she noted.
She pulled out a shirt she’s kept all these years — a small memento of her run through the cobblestone streets of Rome.
“Excuse the wrinkles,” Wood said. “I pulled it out of my drawer so it’s kind of wrinkly, but it’s special.”
When asked how long she’ll run, Wood said she’s hoping to run into her 90s. She was quick to add that it’s not her call.
“I’m leaving it up to God,” she said. “When I can’t run anymore because of my legs, or my feet, then I’ll know it’s time to stop.”
Wood will compete in this year’s 2017 Detroit Free Press half marathon. She’s run in it every year for more than a decade.