A 77-year-old Rim Country runner who grew up on a Northern Arizona Hopi-Navajo reservation rounding up the family's horses on foot legged his way to a third place age group finish at P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Marathon.
Tom Cooka toured the 26-mile plus course in 5:56.49 to take the bronze medal in the 75-79-years age division.
The race, which attracted over 37,000 runners was held Jan. 13 in Phoenix, Tempe and Scottsdale.
Although Cooka was elated with his top-three finish, he was disappointed in his time.
"I had been training with my son, Chris, and he'd set up strategy and training for me to do it in 4:47." he said. "But at about the 16- or 17-mile mark, I got a twitching in my leg muscles, which really slowed me down."
Cooka entered the full marathon after competing the past three years in the half-marathon event.
"Last year, I was first (in the age group) so I decided I'd accomplished what I set out to do and felt it was time to enter the (full) marathon," he said.
Cooka, a long time Santa Fe Railroad employee, retired to the Rim Country more than a decade ago. His running roots date back to his teenage years, when one of his duties was to round up the family's horses on foot.
At 50-plus years old while living in Winslow, he was a member of the Northland Pioneer College track and field team.
Since arriving in Payson, Cooka has been active on the local running scene and in the state and national Senior Olympics.
"I think I'll enter the senior games again, probably in February or March," he said.
Also representing Payson in the Rock 'n' Roll marathon was Payson Center for Success teacher, Linda Gibson. Competing in the 35-39-years age group, Gibson finished in 4:06.42.
The mother of two was using the Rock 'n' Roll to gear up for the upcoming Boston Marathon, for which she qualified, Dec. 2, 2007 at the Holualoa Marathon near Tucson.
Also representing the Rim Country in the full marathon were Sandra Barland (5:46.43), James Champ (2:55.31) and Justin Henderson (4:41.36).
Champ was ninth in the 30-35-years age division and 88th overall.
Entered in the half-marathon from Payson were Jeannette Boeck (3:23.34), Rachelle Christian (2:23.25), Denise Dynes (2:44.03), Karen Evans (1:49.18), Kim Freeburg (2:26.26), Debra Gerard (3:35.48), Cynthia Gildroy (3:35.48), Leonard Grant (3:24.27), Ann Leonard (3:22.21), Felicia Moore (2:45.06), Lynne O'Donnell (2:36.44), Julie Sexton (3:06.51), Bessie Tucker (2:28:57), Christine Varner (2:45.35), Stacy Wiley (4:01.00 and Walter Wiley (4:01.00).
Mike Aish, 31, of New Zealand, won the men's marathon title in 2:13.20. Among the women, Adenech Zekiros, of Ethiopia was first in 2:31.14.