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Great-grandmother returns to running marathons

By Gheni_Platenburg
March 17, 2011 at 6:05 p.m.
Updated March 16, 2011 at 10:17 p.m.

Cecilia Caballero, 72, runs past her home in Telferner Wednesday afternoon, as she begins her training for a 2012 half-marathon in Houston.  Caballero has run 16 marathons in her life but had to stop in 2004, after her son died and her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.  After a six-year hiatus, she is getting back into a daily training regimen.

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The weather on Wednesday afternoon was a little windier than Telferner resident Cecilia Caballero would have liked, but it was not going to deter her from her weekly running routine.

Dressed in a green and black runner's outfit with a tan sun visor, Caballero's 72-year-old petite frame slightly swayed in the wind as she finished the last of her calf stretches.

"Why don't you come running with me?" she called out to a younger neighbor across the street.

But before he could finish his excuse for not being able to accompany her, Caballero sprinted away.

A woman on a mission, Caballero has no time to waste as she prepares to run the Aramco Houston Half Marathon in January.

The 2012 marathon will bring Caballero's marathon count up to 17.

"I thank God for helping me to do what I love to do," said Caballero, as she pulled loose wisps of her white hair back into her runner's ponytail. "I ran my first marathon without stopping and I never stopped running. I kept going, and I'm still going."

Nicknamed "The Telferner runner," Caballero can often be seen jogging around Telferner and the outskirts of Victoria with a towel on her head to help block the sun and a pole in her right hand to fend off menacing dogs on the loose.

Caballero, who is a mother of six children, 19 grandchildren, and 25 great-grandchildren, first gained an interest in jogging at the age of 29 when her daughter Helen joined her school's track team.

Despite the fact that her last real athletic venture was participating in her elementary school's pep squad, Caballero shaped up quickly.

In 1979, three years after she first began jogging, Caballero ran the Austin Motorola Marathon.

"My husband joked that my mother got scared by a jackrabbit when she was pregnant with me and that's why I came out a runner," she chuckled.

Over the years, Caballero participated in various marathons, including the 1991 Boston Marathon, which she ran with a group of 10 other runners from Victoria.

"I like the excitement. Seeing other runners motivates me, and I motivate them," she said. "A lot of the younger runners see me and speed up so I can't beat them."

During her time running, Caballero's accomplishments included placing first in her age category for the 2002 Austin Motorola Marathon and having the fastest time of all the participants in the 1993 Houston marathon, which qualified her to run in Boston.

"She was always there. It didn't matter what the weather was," said 57-year-old Telferner resident Pam Hill, who began running marathons with Caballero in 1979. "I really cherish the time we spent running together."

Caballero's running days came to an abrupt halt in late 2004 when her husband of 55 years, Juan, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease and her eldest son, John, died in a tragic accident.

"John was my biggest cheerleader," she said. "He went with me to all the marathons."

Caballero returned to running around Telferner in mid-2005 when Juan's condition stabilized.

However, she was once again forced to hang up her running shoes in March 2010, when Juan's Alzheimer's worsened.

"One day I came home and found him panicky, even though I'd put signs on the mirrors and doors letting him know I'd went running," said Caballero.

With the help of a home health care provider, who watches Juan three times a week, Caballero began running again in October.

"It's a little bit harder to speed up now, but I can run five miles without stopping," said Caballero, who decided to re-join the marathon scene soon after her return to running.

"Right now, I'm running five miles three times a week. In a month, I want to be running seven or eight," she said. "After that, if I do 13 miles in one day, then I'll be ready for it."

For Caballero, her return to running also meant a return to healthy living.

"Running is my medicine," said Caballero, who is a former nurse's aide. "It keeps you healthy. I don't have diabetes or high cholesterol."

The marathon grandma also makes sure to eat plenty of vegetables and proteins and switch out her running shoes after they have hit the 300-mile mark.

"My sister and I joke that (Cecilia) will be taking care of us before we have to take care of her," chuckled Caballero's daughter Helen Cuellar, 52. "She's always eating right and exercising."

Cuellar, along with her other siblings, remain supportive of their mother's desire to run marathons again.

"Every time we get a chance, we go watch my Dad so she can go running," said Cuellar, who proudly carries in her wallet a picture of her mother crossing the finish line at the 1991 Boston marathon.

With plans to run the Aramco Houston Half Marathon in January and the Austin marathon in February, Caballero's marathon calendar is well on its way to being full.

"I'll go as long as I can," she said. "As long as someone drives me."

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