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Fine-Tuning Your Body, Uncluttering Your Mind

Pat Zemianek with granddaughter Emmalene
Pat Zemianek with granddaughter Emmalene

“The first time I ran a race it was a struggle to finish,” says Pat Zemianek ’63. “I hadn’t trained.” That was shortly after her husband, Steve Zemianek ’63, died unexpectedly in 2000. In honor of Steve, a much beloved high school English teacher and coach for track and field and cross-country, the annual Bennington, Vermont, road race was renamed the Steve Zemianek Bennington Road Race – or the “Zem/Benn” for short.

Zemianek felt compelled to run the Zem/Benn, which her husband had long helped to organize. Her initial showing convinced her she needed some training. She started casually, but when she joined a local running club, she really hit her stride. Fast-forward to 2017, and Zemianek runs as many races as possible on weekends, including 5Ks, 10Ks, and, occasionally, half marathons. She owes her success, she says, to the support of the dedicated and enthusiastic women in her running group.

Her time in the 2016 Komen Vermont Race for the Cure earned her a ranking of 70 in the world all-time list for 5K road races in her category, females aged 75 to 79 – not bad for someone who started running at about the age of 60.

Zemianek, an elementary education major at Keene State College, taught for over 30 years, first in Claremont, New Hampshire, and then in Bennington, where she lives. In retirement she is busy. She and two of her three children, Kathleen and Michael, marathon runners, now help organize and run the Zem/Benn. She volunteers for an afterschool program for at-risk kids, helps out monthly at her church’s food pantry, and provides healthy food for guests and staff at the community free clinic. As a member of the Oral Health Coalition, she visits classrooms to instruct students on the importance of oral health. She also ushers at the local theatre.

“Giving back to my community and making a difference makes me happy,” Zemianek says. She spends time with her nine grandchildren, who are all sports participants. She bikes, hikes, cross-country skis, kayaks, and walks almost daily. She maintains her Victorian home. Because she has osteoporosis and arthritis, she attends stretching and tai chi classes as well as the Bone Builders program.

“And I run,” she says. “For my age, I feel I’m very active.”

Has running improved her health?

“Absolutely,” Zemianek says. “I feel that I’m preventing or reducing the risk of chronic diseases. I eat healthier because I know I have to, and I drink eight glasses of water a day. Running is physical, mental, and spiritual. I love the experience of a runner’s high – it’s so exhilarating! When I finish a run I feel I have so much more energy. I feel revitalized.” She also finds it easier to tackle the day, to deal with stress, and to unclutter her mind. It’s a meditative practice, she says, one that gives her a sense of peace and happiness.

Her input for people of any age who might like to lace up their sneakers and take to the road: “It’s a simple, fast way to fitness. It’s an inexpensive sport. You don’t need equipment, a court or a gym; and you don’t need much time. A 20-minute run three or four times a week is enough to make you fit. You can run with a friend or alone. You can set your own goals. It’s not for everybody, but my advice is, give it a try.”

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