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St. Petersburg’s Betty Ashley is 97, and just finished her eighth straight Gasparilla Distance Classic 5K

She did it again. Big, bad Betty Ashley of St. Petersburg won her age group in the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 5K on Saturday. She won in a walk.

True, big, bad Betty is roughly 5 feet tall, with silver hair, almonds for eyes and a laugh that melts your heart. She looks as if she fell off a charm bracelet.

And it is just as true that Betty is also the only one in her age group, as she has been for the past eight years. Betty is 97.

Meet the champ.

“Age really is just a number,” she said.

If you want to know what Gasparilla is about, walk with Betty, who is listed as Gasparilla’s “most mature participant.” She’ll bring you to the finish line and teach you something along the way.

She was born in 1921. Her first presidential vote, in 1944, was for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Betty had eight children, but has outlived three of them. Every time she comes to Gasparilla, it feels like her own private party.

“All these people,” Betty said. “All shapes and sizes. It’s exciting. So many people, and they come from all over.”

Saturday, that included three of Betty’s children and 10 members of her family, some of whom came from as far away as Alaska to compete in the 5K with her.

And it most definitely includes Betty’s friend, Jim Oakley, whom she describes as her “Man-ager.” They’re sort of an item, have been for 10 years. They love bookstores, coffee shops, travel and ballroom dancing. Frankly, Betty is a bit of a cradle robber. Jim is only 74.

“The first time I met her was at exercise class,” Jim said. “She’s the best hugger in the world. We go to dance at the senior center and everyone lines up to hug her. Just look at her. She’s cute.”

“She is a very special lady,” said Susan, Betty’s oldest child, who is 70. She competed in the 5K, as did her sister Thelma and brother Carl. They’re all getting up there.

(02/25/2019) ⚡AMP
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Gasparilla Distance Classic

Gasparilla Distance Classic

Run through the city streets of this city overlooking the waters of Tampa, Florida’s Hillsborough Bay at the Gasparilla Distance Classic, which includes a full slate of running events for runners at all levels, including a half marathon, 8K, 15K and 5K. Mostly fast and flat and great for beginners, the race’s half marathon and 8K races take place on...

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