Florida Feature by Nick Gandy, Florida Senior Games
Florida athletes at the 2022 National Senior Games 5K Road Race Thursday morning stretched from the low end of the age groups to the high end.
On the low end, Lakeland’s Robert Thornhill won a silver medal in the 50-54 age group and was one of the top ten overall finishers in the race. On the other end was Maria Georgiev, of Longboat Key, who earned a silver medal in the 85-89 age group.
There’s more difference between the two runners than their ages.
For the 53-year old Thornhill, it was his first National Senior Games appearance. Georgiev, on the other hand, was running in her fourth National Senior Games, dating back to the 2013 Games, where she won a bronze medal in the 75-79 age group, then a gold in the 80-84 age group in 2015, capped with another gold in 2019, in the 85-89 age group.
Thornhill, who was the overall top finisher in the Florida Senior Games, presented by Humana, in 2019 and 2021, is a fifth generation native of Polk County and is a partner in the Howell and Thornhill Law Firm. Georgiev, the Florida Senior Games 5K Record Holder in the 85-89 age group, immigrated to the U.S. from Slovakia in 1968 with her husband to escape invading Communist forces. Both were doctors and did not want to leave, but the Fate brought them here.
The differences between the younger and older runners ended when the 5K Road Race started on the Hollywood Broadwalk as the sun began peeking out from behind clouds on the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean.
When Thornhill crossed the finish line with a time of 18:40, the sun was shining bright. It was still bright at 39:44 when Georgiev crossed the line.. Even with their medal winning performances, both of the high level competitors spoke of nagging injuries that kept them from better times.
“I pulled a calf muscle at a sprint triathlon a few weeks ago,” Thornhill said of his performance that was only eight seconds slower than his gold medal winning pace at the 2021 Florida Senior Games.
Georgiev was on medication for a recent bout with the COVID-19 virus and was in doubt of making the trip across the state for the race.
“I had a negative test on Monday of this week,” she said. “I ran a couple of miles on Tuesday and felt fine and decided to come.”
Both know the benefits of their active lifestyles through their professions. Thornhill manages to keep his impressive road race times while managing a successful law practice. He plans to compete in the Senior Games events for years to come.
“I get up early and work late,” he said.
Georgiev was a practicing cardiologist in Charleston, West Virginia, until she and her husband retired to Longboat Key more than 20 years ago. That’s when she took up running at 65.
“I mix things up,” she said. “I run, swim, work out on the elliptical and lift weights.”