Alva Thomas: 70-Year-Old First Timer

Alva ThomasAlva Thomas is not new to running. In the Army in the 1960s, he would run 20 miles in combat boots in the Texas heat as part of physical training. When he got out of the Army, he would run down the street and people would ask what he was doing. Marathons for average joes weren’t really a thing yet, and people thought he was crazy, so he stopped running. 

Then, 45 years later, Alva was diagnosed with cancer. “I would walk home from work and repeat to myself, ‘You have cancer.’ It took a month before I told my wife,” Alva said. When he was cancer free a year later, Alva completed his first Tough Mudder “in defiance and celebration,” he said. He was 68 years old.

That event reintroduced running into his life. So when he was sitting in church one Sunday—at 70 years old—and Team World Vision invited him to run the Chicago Marathon for clean water, he said, “Why not?” 

“I’m one of those people that believes if you have the ability to do something, there is no reason you’re not to do it,” Alva said. “After cancer, people would ask me why would I run at that age? I said, ‘Why not? What’s to prevent me from doing it? There’s no reason not to.’”

And with Team World Vision, he felt even more compelled. If running and asking friends for support could make a difference in the lives of people, Alva was in. “We’re running with a purpose. We’re running for them. We’re running for water, something that we absolutely take for granted,” he said.

Now at 71, Alva is running his second and third marathons with Team World Vision this fall — Chicago, where he lives, and Detroit, where we was born. “I will run until I can’t,” he said, “I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone, but right now there is no reason not to.” 

And to anyone who thinks they are too old or too slow or too something, Alva says, “Do one thing. Start out with the smallest step. Find something that is difficult or challenging and do it. There is an overwhelming sense of accomplishment in doing that.” And of course, be willing to say, “Why not?”

Alva, thank you for saying “Why not?” to running a marathon with Team World Vision, to running a second and third marathon with Team World Vision, for raising money for kids who need clean water, for being an encourager and mentor at every single group run, and for showing us what’s possible when we put others needs before our own comfort.

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