MONTREAL — It was Sylvia Weiner calling from Miami just before her return to Montreal after another winter, and the diminutive Holocaust survivor and ageless runner sounded fit and energetic.
“I still always think I will do better than yesterday,” she said with a laugh. “What price glory!”
What price indeed? Weiner is 78 and still runs every single day, as she has done for 44 years.
She actually called to kvell about her daughter Debbie who, in a like-mother, like-daughter scenario, had just completed a Scotiabank half-marathon as the top woman in her age group.
Although Sylvia Weiner has not competed in a full 42-kilometre marathon since 1993, she no longer has to prove herself. Having completed some 75 in all (48 full marathons and 27 half-marathons), she has provided ample evidence that she had what it takes.
Weiner said she is even listed as among the “100 champions” to have finished the Boston Marathon in first place in her age group (women over 40). She ran the Boston four times, first in 1974. Her best time ever for a full marathon was 3:15 in 1976 at the Skylon Marathon in Niagara Falls.
She does compete now, but in shorter spurts: 5- or 10-km. jaunts that still earn her, almost invariably, the top finish in her age group (especially if she is the only one competing in her age group).
In January, after finishing first in a Tropical 5K run, Weiner told a reporter: “I’ve run thousands of races, and it always boils down to the will to survive.”
Of course, it’s that will – as well as luck – that played a part in her surviving Auschwitz.
Weiner has often described how she turned to running as a way to cope with and as a catharsis for the trauma of having witnessed and experienced unimaginable things that still haunt her dreams.
As she has often recounted to Jewish student groups, she was only 12, living in a small Polish town, when she was taken away from her parents and eight siblings, never to see them again.
As reported a couple of years ago in an Indiana college newspaper where she went to speak at a Hillel-sponsored event, Weiner ended up in three concentration camps over the next two years.
One of them was Auschwitz, where she crossed paths with and befriended a moribund girl named Anne.
“It was not until years later when her diary was published that I realized my friend was Anne Frank,” she told the students in Indiana.
So Weiner keeps on running, as her friend and mentor (and also Holocaust survivor) Wolf Bronet of the Y Wolf Pack so often exhorts.
When Weiner returns to Montreal this month, she will certainly be found at Beaver Lake, setting off regularly with the group until she returns to Florida in the fall.