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    Thursday, July 18, 2024

    Chase-Brand ready for another milestone moment at Manchester Road Race

    In this Nov. 17, 2011 photo at a press conference in Manchester, Dr. Julia Chase-Brand of New London holds the Smith College gym suit she wore when she became the first women to ever finish the Manchester Road Race in 1961. Now 79, Chase-Brand will mark the 60th anniversary of her milestone by racing again on Thanksgiving morning. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Dr. Julia Chase-Brand, 79 years young, has a modest goal when she participates in the 85th Manchester Road Race on Thanksgiving, 60 years after breaking barriers by running in that event.

    "My secret goal is to see if I can do it without walking," New London's Chase-Brand said earlier this week.

    Chase-Brand will make the trip to Manchester on Thursday with fellow running legend Amby Burfoot, who, at the age of 75, also will line up to race. She'll receive a warm welcome unlike in 1961 when she and two others defied a ban against females competing.

    Considering her background and personality, it's not surprising that Chase-Brand is still lacing up her running shoes.

    Chase-Brand, who grew up on Shennecossett Road in Groton, has always embraced life's challenges, whether in the running world or professional arena. She's retired, leaving her job as chair of the psychiatry department at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London a month short of her 75th birthday.

    She didn't decide until last month to run Manchester, a 4.74-mile race, for the first time since 2011.

    Her friend, Pat Connolly, a three-time Olympian (1960, 1964, 1968), convinced her to hit the roads again during a visit in October.

    "I impulsively decided to do this about a month ago," Chase-Brand said. "I happened to have a house guest at the time, somebody that I met when she was 16 and I was 17. We met at the 1960 Olympic Trials in Abilene, Texas."

    Before fully committing, Chase-Brand had to take herself out for a test drive of sorts. She has gotten two artificial knees and a pacemaker since her last Manchester race 10 years ago.

    "I had to see if the hips and the knees and back and so on were willing to go along with the crazy plan," Chase-Brand said. "It took some persuading."

    With both her mind and body willing, Chase-Brand started training with Connolly serving as her coach, checking in regularly from her home in California. She's varied her workouts, doing some walking, running and biking.

    On Sunday, she went on a one-hour walk carrying a 20-pound knapsack.

    "I vary it depending on what part of my body is complaining," Chase-Brand said. "I'm now at the point where if I do an hour and a half workout, I wake up the next day and feel fine and feel normal.

    "Initially, I had to take a day or so light after any hard workout. So, I'm feeling healthy and I'm feeling like an athlete again."

    Ten years ago on the 50th anniversary of her ground-breaking day in Manchester, she celebrated the milestone by running with a group of family and friends.

    On Thursday, she'll be running solo. She doesn't want anyone to be burdened by her pace.

    She's been given #1 for her race number.

    "I'm doing this for me," Chase-Brand said. "I want to finish it off one more time at Manchester in my 80th year."

    Chase-Brand's Smith College gym suit, which she wore in 1961, is now on display in Manchester. Over the years, her impressive accomplishments have been well-documented everywhere from the New York Times to Sports Illustrated.

    "Sixty years ago, it was forbidden," said Chase-Brand, who defied Amateur Athletic Union officials by running Manchester. "You could be banned for life and stripped of all medals. And the basic premise was, women can't do that because they're not able to do that.

    "Somebody had to go first, somebody had to be the first Penguin to jump off into the water who may get eaten by the sharks. That's sort of what I had to do. I had to go. When I showed up that day, two other women showed up, too. We all ran."

    Within three months of that history day, AAU officials agreed to let women compete in longer distance races on the track.

    When asked about what her emotions will be on race day on Thursday, Chase-Brand said: "Kind of like watching a beautiful sunset. This has been a lovely ride, a lovely run. Like looking at the sunset from a mountain peak."

    So, will this be Chase-Brand's final Manchester race?

    "Let's see how I feel at 90," Chase-Brand said with a hearty laugh.

    Mystic's Burfoot, meanwhile, will be running in is record-setting 59th consecutive race.

    "Manchester is a celebration," Burfoot told the Journal-Inquirer of Manchester. "Celebration is a much, much greater thing to me (than winning) because it's a state of mind. It's a spirit of living statement. I am so happy to be here again."

    g.keefe@theday.com

    A newspaper clipping of Dr. Julia Chase-Brand when she was in college running at the 1961 Manchester Road Race, up until the time a race only for men. Sixty years ago it was a widely publicized act of civil disobedience that became a pioneering moment in female distance running in the United States. (Christopher Capozziello/The New York Times)
    Amby Burfoot, the 1968 Boston Marathon winner, waves as he is introduced at the starting line of the 125th Boston Marathon on Oct. 11 in Hopkinton, Mass. Mystic's Burfoot, now 75, will be running the Manchester Road Race on Thanksgiving morning for a record-setting 59th consecutive year. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

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