Just a few years ago, Edward Rooney was a seventy-something retiree and pack-a-day smoker with a few hundred extra pounds on his 5'8" frame. Today, the single father of five and decorated World War II Army vet is, according to Guinness World Records, "the world's most inspirational runner."
The designation became official at Sunday's Ferris Station (Nebraska) Marathon—Rooney's 100th lifetime marathon.
Did we mention that Rooney is a cancer survivor? And that he's lost 300 pounds since he began running, at age 77? And that he ran all of those marathons in full firefighting gear? And that he's raised nearly $185,000 to benefit baby rhinos whose parents were lost to poachers? Also that he's 82 years old?
"Holy crap," said a Guinness World Records spokesperson after learning of Rooney's feat. "I mean... Wow."
Those who know Rooney intimately were just as impressed with his accomplishment, but less surprised.
"I'll never forget what he told the doctor when got his cancer diagnosis," said Cameron Frye, a close friend. "He said, 'F*** that. I'll beat this cancer, and then I'll lose 300 pounds, and then I'll run 100 marathons in full firefighting gear and raise money for animals of some sort—maybe baby hippos or elephants or something—and I'll kick this smoking habit while I'm at it.'"
"Dang if he didn't do it."
"Dad has always been a fighter," said Sloane Peterson, one of Rooney's three daughters. "The day Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, he lied about his age to join the Army. He was seven years old. But even back then he was 5'8", so they let him in."
Back at the Ferris Station Marathon, Rooney, wrapped in a space blanket, grinned as he accepted his finisher's medal and paused for a photo.
"If you ain't busy living," he told a reporter, "you're dying."
Then he dropped to the ground and performed 50 pushups. Donors had agreed to pay a total of $23 for each post-marathon pushup, to benefit a local homeless shelter.
"Wow," said a woman who gave her name only as Grace. "He really makes other inspirational runners look like shit."
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