If you travel on Highway 72 between Salem and Rolla, you may see an older gentleman in a red shirt, walking speedily along the paved shoulder. Has his car broken down, or did he escape from a nearby nursing home?
Neither one: it is Bob Gravley, training for the Honoring Our Heroes Marathon on 11/18. Bob will speed-walk the entire 26.2 mile course from the Dent County Commons in Salem to Lions Club Park in Rolla, for the second time. He will cross the finish line in an estimated 6 hours and 41 minutes; his finish time last year. What is remarkable is that Bob will be turning 81 in December! He can be seen along Highway 72 almost every Saturday, completing his training; each week his distances vary, from four to twenty miles.
Gravley has walked almost every day for years. When his children challenged him to complete a full marathon in 2015, he accepted the challenge and began increasing his speed-walking distances. Bob finished first in his age group at the Outer Banks Marathon in Kitty Hawk, N.C., in November, 2015. Bob came home from Kitty Hawk inspired; since this part of Missouri had never had a marathon, and the distance from Salem to Rolla is a perfect 26 miles, with a paved eight foot shoulder along the highway, the route came together in his mind. He felt it should be a charity event, with monies raised for the benefit of local veterans. Thus, the Honoring Our Heroes Marathon was born.
Bob served ten years in the Air Force (1954-64), then worked for the government as a civilian stationed in Japan and Alaska. When he retired, Bob and his wife began looking for a country home and found one in Salem. Gravley is a prolific hobby farmer, caring for a fruit tree orchard, chickens, fish pond, and huge vegetable garden; he shares the bounty with everyone he knows. Honored as Salem ‘Humanitarian of the Year’ in 2011, Bob attends almost all Salem High School sporting events, and is an active member of Salem United Methodist Church. Thanks to his care for his neighborhood, which runs the gamut from picking up trash, fixing vacuum cleaners, to chopping firewood for sick neighbors, he is unofficially known as ‘Mayor Bob.’ Bob made his tree stand handicap accessible after a neighbor had a hip replacement, just before deer season, a few years ago.
Gravley is actively recruiting runners and walkers for the second running of the Heroes Marathon; Bob states, “Marathoning is less expensive than medical bills, and a lot cheaper than being in a nursing home!” Participants are encouraged to enter for the 5K, half marathon, or the full marathon by registering at www.heroesmarathon.com. A relay option is available for a marathon team of three runners. Full details about the event which benefits local veterans are included on the website, or call 573-729-1041 for more information. Or, talk to Bob Gravley as he’s walking along the roadway. If you can catch him!