Family has always been a constant for Rosalie Boozell since she started walking for exercise and fitness nearly four decades ago.
Throughout most of that time, the now 78-year-old Mason City woman had a walking companion in her husband, Vince. But when her lifelong partner passed away 4 1/2 years ago, she has walked alone.
At least physically.
"When we walked together, he wasn't the fastest, so we kept his pace. We both enjoyed our walks together so much," Boozell said. "Vince is always with me now when I walk, even though he isn't here."
It was Vince who nearly 10 years ago came up with Rosalie's daily walking route after she set a goal of 1,000 miles a year in preparation to walk in her first IMT Des Moines half marathon.
A decade ago, Boozell increased the amount of walking she did with that purpose in mind. She entered her first half marathon (13.1 miles) and walked with family spread out along the course encouraging her to keep going.
"In Des Moines, Vince would stay up top on Fleur Drive and would wave when I went by. He was my best cheerleader," she said. "My kids and grandchildren would find a couple of places along the route and throw me chocolate and encourage me to keep going. It really helped."
That became a tradition as Boozell has continued to take part in the Des Moines half marathon each year since 2010.
On Sunday, Boozell will embark on her 10th half marathon. This year, she will walk the neighborhood course she and her husband came up with many years ago as the event went virtual in 2020 because of COVID-19.
The location change doesn't matter to her children and many grandchildren who will be in Mason City on Sunday to cheer on Boozell.
When she sets out at 8 a.m. on Sunday, Boozell said her family will get up and send her off with words of encouragement and cheers.
Then, she said Meghan, one of her five 19-year-old grandchildren, will walk beside her for a little while like she has done in the past, throwing chocolate her way because "I'm a chocoholic."
Throughout her 13.1-mile walk, other family members and grandchildren, including the family's 19-year-old triplets from the Chicago area, will line the route and hold up signs and yell out words of encouragement.
One of Boozell's children, Katie McKee, said she is happy and honored to bring her family to Mason City to support her mother in what she loves to do.
"She keeps on keeping on, even after losing her husband, my sister and my brother," McKee said. "They wouldn't want her to stop, and we are thrilled she isn't."
Boozell's daughter has fond memories of cheering her mother on in Des Moines when her father was alive and enjoys keeping those memories alive by supporting her during each half marathon.
"In Des Moines, we would follow her to the starting line, and after she took off, we would go to our special spots and cheer her on and encourage her to keep going strong."
McKee said the only thing that will change on Sunday is the location and the route. Everything else will be the same.
The family will hold the same signs they have in the past, break out the cow bells and stand along her route cheering and carrying on as if they were on Fleur Avenue in Des Moines.
"It should be a lot of fun for her and our family," McKee said. "I'm just so proud of my mother."
Good old 'Uncle Nick'
When Boozell was 11 years old, she had a problem with her hip that progressively got worse. Her doctor took X-rays but didn't see a problem, so he couldn't help her.
Boozell's father took her to Chicago to see her uncle Nick, a doctor there, and he was able to diagnose what was wrong with her – a separation of the ball of the hip joint from the thigh bone.
"I was a crippled child at the age of 11," Boozell said. "For nine months, I walked on this hip, in constant pain."
She said "Uncle Nick" called her into his office and asked her to lift her leg and when she couldn't, he had more X-rays taken. He found the problem and sent her to Shriner's Hospital, where she had surgery.
"The Shriner's fixed me up," Boozell said. "I love telling this story because it shows what kindness can do and just how God plans things."
As Boozell continues her 13.1-mile trek each year in the Des Moines half marathon and her 1,000 training miles each year, she never forgets to thank God and her family in her prayers.
"I've stopped listening to books as I walk and instead I pray," she said. "I have such a good visit with God every day. It helps keep me strong. I'll keep doing this until I can't."
Jerry Smith is sports editor and special projects editor for the Globe Gazette. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 641-421-0556.
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