A 92-year-old runner marked the end of an incredible 53-year streak at the Peachtree Road Race on Tuesday, as the only person to have run in Atlanta’s famed Independence Day 10K every year since it began in 1970 crossed the finish line one last time.
Bill Thornwho served as grand marshal of this year’s race, officially ended the streak Tuesday when he ceremonially broke the tape in a short walk to the finish line as crowds cheered him on.
Although Thorn now uses a walker to get around, he took his final steps toward the finish line of Tuesday’s race unaided, raising his hands triumphantly as he broke the tape.
The former high school track coach told Atlanta’s 11Alive the decision to stop running the race was “hard” but that he was “definitely at peace” with putting the streak to bed. “To be honest, I’m kind of relieved,” he said.
For Thorn, who was inducted into the Peachtree Road Race Hall of Fame in 1994, keeping the streak alive wasn’t always easy. One year, he ran the race with a sprained ankle. He also once finished the race during treatment for prostate cancer. But with his balance of his becoming more of an issue in recent years, Thorn said he agreed with his family that it was time to celebrate his record streak by officially bringing it to a close.
Thorn was one of 150 runners who ran the first Peachtree Road Race in 1970, and among the group of only 110 to finish that first race. He told 11Alive that the idea of a streak never occurred to him before it ballooned to the quarter-century mark. “I would just show up every year; no one said anything (about the streak) until the 25th year,” he said.
In 2019, to celebrate the 50th running of the race, Thorn crossed the finish line with four generations of his family and Julia Emmons, former executive of the Atlanta Track Club, which organizes the run. “It could’ve been just a fad,” Thorn said of his streak that year. “But as you go along through the years, people like Julia say to me every once in a while to ‘keep going’ and that was really encouraging, and so it just became a year-after-year thing.”
Today certainly marked a Peachtree to remember.
It was a day like no other, with Bill Thorn serving as Grand Marshal while ending his Peachtree streak, to the winners of all race divisions giving exciting performances. Read the full recap at https://t.co/rYv8D91dBo pic.twitter.com/55TdOdbQQM
— AJC Peachtree Road Race (@ajcprr) July 4, 2023
Since the pandemic, Thorn has completed the virtual edition of the Peachtree, running the distance around his neighborhood.
Saying he still works out six days a week, Thorn told the Atlanta Track Club that “it’s been really exciting over the years, but there comes a time when you have to let go,” adding that “no one else will be able to say they did the first 50.”