Health Runs in the Family

Running marathons brings an Abbott employee and his 80-year-old father closer together. 

In 2008, 65-year-old Chihoon Lee just started running. It’s pretty much as simple as that, if you ask him.

“All of my life, I just stuck with my books and studying,” he says. “I wasn’t really an athletic person, apart from golf. My health was reasonably good all my life, but as I was getting older, I was more concerned about staying healthy. So I just started running.”

The goal was simple, but the impact on Chihoon’s life has been profound. In the past 15 years, he has run more than 20 marathons, four 50-kilometer ultramarathons and a 50-mile race.

And he’s not done yet. Now 80 years old, he averages around 45 miles a week and is gearing up for his fifth (yes, fifth) Boston Marathon with his son Tony, his longtime running partner and an Abbott employee based in Chicago.

A Family Affair

Chihoon and Tony have been running together for 10 years. “When my dad turned 70, he wanted me and my brother to run a marathon with him,” Tony says. “Turning 70 is an important milestone in Korean culture, and I guess the biggest gift he wanted was for us to run with him. So we ran the Chicago Marathon together, and the rest is history.”

Tony’s brother hung up his running shoes after that first race, but Tony caught the marathon bug. He’s gone on to run Chicago with his dad nine times, and he ran Boston in 2022. Both races are part of the Abbott World Marathon Majors, a series of the six largest and most renowned marathons in the world.

“My dad now splits his time between Chicago and Florida, so we don’t get to do a whole lot together,” he says. “But every year we plan this. It’s a kind of tradition.”

Both the elder and younger Lees hope to finish Boston in under five hours, as Tony is still bouncing back from an injury. While the two are excited to be tackling another marathon together, there’s one infamous part of the Boston course that neither are looking forward to.

“Before 2022, I’d never experienced anything like Heartbreak Hill,” Tony exclaims, referring to the notoriously steep ascent at mile 20. “You can’t even walk it, it hurts your legs so much. You essentially have to jog.”

Father Knows Best

So what does Tony think about his dad’s late-in-life commitment to long-distance running?

“Sometimes it seems a bit crazy, to be honest,” he says. “But it’s something that keeps him going, is good for his mental health and it makes him happy. So I’m happy he has that. And in a lot of ways, it motivates me to push myself a little more, both in running and in life.”

When not striding through his golden years, Chihoon spends time in the gym to focus on strength training (“After turning 80, I think I’ve lost a little stamina and muscle,” he says somewhat wistfully) and maintains a diet that emphasizes vegetables. He admits there are days he would rather kick back and relax, but the drive to remain active compels him to keep lacing up. “I tell my wife we have to exercise every day,” he says. “Five thousand steps is the minimum.”

“All you need is your health. That is the most important thing.” Chihoon Lee, 80-year-old Abbott World Marathon Majors runner

An 80-year-old marathoner is remarkable in and of itself, but there is a deeply held philosophy fueling Chihoon’s running that makes his commitment relevant to people of all ages. “I feel that so many people spend their lives preoccupied with making a lot of money, but all you need is your health. That is the most important thing,” he says. “I know that by running I can stay healthy, so that’s why I love it.”

It’s a simple message that was a central tenet of Tony’s upbringing. “One thing my dad always said to us is do what you love, not just in exercise, but in life. Because then it’s not really work.”

Wise words for anyone to live by, whether they’re 8 years old or 80.

Abbott is the title sponsor of the Abbott World Marathon Majors, a series of six of the largest and most renowned marathons in the world: Tokyo Marathon, Boston Marathon, TCS London Marathon, BMW Berlin Marathon, Bank of America Chicago Marathon and TCS New York City Marathon.

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