Millie Nuoffer can inspire people - can bring her children to tears - by walking down the street.
Check it out Saturday morning when Nuoffer will not only be the oldest participant in the Gasparilla Distance Classic 5K, but will probably have had the most heart attacks: seven.
Two of her heart valves have been damaged for more than 50 years. Then there's the years fighting osteoporosis, plus the temporary memory loss and a strangulated hernia - "That hurt worse than child birth," she said - that led to heart failure and an operation within the past four months.
Still, the day after the hernia operation, Feb. 10, she sat up in her hospital bed and said she was walking in the Gasparilla Distance Classic.
"Even I didn't believe it," said her son Dennis, who drove Millie from Michigan to Tampa on Wednesday. "You wouldn't have believed it if you saw the state that she was in."
And why, after all the troubles, would she do it?
"I had to," Millie said Thursday after her daily walk, this time around the University of Tampa track. "This will be the seventh consecutive one I've walked in. I couldn't stop now.
"That wouldn't make any sense."
Then again, not much of Nuoffer's history makes much sense, which is a good thing.
At 16 and 35 she suffered bouts of rheumatic fever that almost killed her and left her heart weak. Some doctors gave her just a few years to live.
"I started walking," Millie said. "At first I couldn't walk more than a few hundred yards without being completely exhausted. But I kept at it, walking and walking. I got up to walking six and seven miles. Nothing hard. I'd walk mostly with my husband (Russell)."
She walked in Michigan and she kept walking after the Nuoffers moved in 1975 to Dunedin, where she lived for 30 years, through her husband's death in 1988, until her bout with memory loss in November. That's when Dennis moved her up to Michigan to live with him.
And though in and out of the hospital since she's been in Michigan, Millie, as she done for more than 50 years, has walked every chance she's had.
"She's a testament to what walking can do for your health," said Dennis, 64. "She's inspired me to get out and walk every day."
No, Millie has never drunk alcohol or smoked and has been careful about what she's eaten, but most importantly, she said, "I've always walked."
On Saturday, she will wear a red T-shirt with white letters that say, "I'm Millie! Almost 90." (Her birthday is May 16). Beside her will be sons Dennis and David, with shirts that say, "Go Millie Go."
Hundreds will cheer as she walks by.
Many who have seen her walk the previous six years say it's inspiring.
GASPARILLA DISTANCE CLASSIC
15K AND 5K
WHEN: 15K starts 7:30 a.m. Saturday, 5K 9:30 a.m.
STARTING LINES: Downtown Tampa, women - Cumberland and Morgan streets; men - Brorein and Franklin streets.
REGISTRATION: Race weekend - 15K, $30; 5K, $25.
PRIZE MONEY: The top five male and female finishers in the 15K from Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Polk, Sarasota or Manatee counties (full-time residents) are eligible with the purse totaling $10,000 ($2,000, $1,500, $750, $500, $250).
BANK OF AMERICA MARATHON
WHEN: 6 a.m. Sunday.
STARTING LINE: Downtown Tampa, Brorein Street and Florida Avenue.
REGISTRATION: Race weekend - marathon, $85; half-marathon, $55.
PRIZE MONEY: $10,000 ($2,250, $1,250, $750, $500, $250) will be awarded to the top five male and female finishers and $30,000 to the top five male and female masters finishers ($8,000, $3,500, $2,000, $1,000, $500).
NOTE: Race weekend also features the Health and Fitness Expo at the Tampa Convention Center, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
- SCOTT PURKS, Times staff writer