Payson Octogenarian Runs To Rock ’N’ Roll Gold Medal Finish

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Tom Cooka, an 81-year-old Payson retiree who remembers as a small boy rounding up horses on foot at his family’s ranch on the Hopi reservation north of Winslow, ran his way to a first place age group finish at the P.F. Chang’s Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon.

The race drew more than 25,000 runners and was held Jan. 15 on streets in Tempe, Phoenix and Scottsdale.

Although he was a first-place finisher, Cooka expressed his dissatisfaction with his time of 2:18.09. “I started out a little too fast and it threw me off,” he said. “I was hoping for a better time.”

Last year, Cooka was also a first-place finisher, but in a time of 2:13.11.

In 2008, Cooka entered the Rock ’n’ Roll full marathon of 26.2 miles and was third in the 75-79 years age division in 5:56.49.

Cooka, a retired Santa Fe railroad worker from Winslow who has lived in Payson for a couple of decades, is probably the Rim Country’s most accomplished long distance runner. Among the prestigious awards he has received was the 2007 APS Power Player Trophy he was given as a 77-year-old runner entered Lori Piestewa National Native American Games held near Fountain Hills. In the Native American Games, he ran his way to a third-place finish in the 5K race.

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