GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Local race legend Wally Ypma is 92 years old, but that won’t stop him from completing the Fifth Third River Bank Run 25K Saturday.
Ypma started running when he was in the U.S. Navy and hasn’t stopped since. He has helped hundreds of runners train and succeed in West Michigan. In the 41-year history of the River Bank Run, he has missed it only twice.
When he laces up his shoes Saturday, he will have three friends helping him. Team Wally will walk with Ypma or push him in his bright blue racing wheelchair. The group will have to start just after 5 a.m. to finish in time.
Ypma walks every day, sometimes more than once. His three friends meet each week to go with him. One of them, Ed Zimmerman, says they take it slow and enjoy their time together.
“Anywhere from five to six hours is our normal range, but it depends on the day and it depends on Wally,” Zimmerman said.
Ypma always wears a smile and frequently a hat marking him as a World War II veteran. As he makes his way through the course, spectators are quick to cheer him on and thank him for his service.
Ever the runner, Ypma is focused.
“I get there for one thing,” he said. “Finish line!”
The three other members of Team Wally are proud to be his friends and happy to go his pace. They are each impressive athletes, all of them having completed multiple marathons, even qualifying for the Boston Marathon. One has raced in Ultra Marathons and another in Ironman races.
They say they will race the 25K with Ypma as long as he wants to do it.