The Slovenia Times

Helena Žigon and the Ljubljana marathon


Her daughter was standing beside her, she knew that her mother had a hard time just standing on the sidewalk. It was quite possible that without saying a word she would suddenly step onto the road and run. Helena turned to her daughter and said, "You know, I could run these 10 kilometres too," repeating the phrase two more times.

This white-haired lady on the route of the Ljubljana marathon was 87 year old Helena Žigon. She was the only woman to have participated in all of the previous 19 Ljubljana half marathons. On this, the 20th in the row, she participated for the first time as an observer.

Helena ran her whole life. Even as a little girl she constantly ran, but usually only to get to where she had to go more quickly. She attended her first race, a short track and field competition quite casually in 1954, dressed in a skirt and blouse, but nevertheless surprisingly won. Then she had even more motivation for running and participated in all the runs which were organised in her country and to which she was able to go. Running offered her many of the things she longed for in life.

Life revealed many dark sides to her but she didn't give up. She was running even after all of her peers had stopped. When she was asked the question that was quite rude to ask, she smilingly replied: "I will continue running all until I'm too old." For her, running was the constant in her life, a point of reference, a way of thinking, meditation, learning about herself and the world. Her path to acceptance and forgiveness. The way of life or life itself. Running was her therapy and salvation at the same time.

It was a year and a half before this Ljubljana's marathon day when Helena decided to celebrate her 86th birthday by participating in the first Istrian half marathon. A few days before the start of the Littoral run, after 66 years of love and 60 years of marriage, her husband Stane died. As if this was not tragic enough, some days before that she had fallen and broken two ribs, barely able to even walk. Nevertheless, she went to the start and also to the finish. In the meantime, in every single kilometre, one by one, during her running without any stopping at all, she confessed to me the story of her life.

I described this exceptional life that was screaming in fear of oblivion, every step in the biographical novel, The Long Running Life of Helena Žigon. In Slovenia, it was released in 2014 with the name Bela dama. Among the readers were people who regarded running as something very distant from their personality, but after reading the book started thinking about it. A question rose in every readers mind: how can she still be running after all that happened?

Let's ask the same question: How is it possible that Helena, at 86 years of age when most people her age have problems even walking much shorter distances, is able to run the half marathon? How is it possible that she still wanted to run 10 kilometres at the age of 87 and that she was very probably able to do it?

The answer to this difficult question is in the way she lived her life which included regular exercise.

It is inevitable that we get older but it is in not about how old we are, it is mainly about how we age. Our ageing can be compared with an ageing clock. When it stops working we have three options: throw it away, pay the watchmaker to fix it or sometimes a miracle if we only wrapp it. For this reason, let's not stop taking care of our bodies, lets regularly wrapp them. Only then can we become what we want to become because what we do has a direct impact on what we are.

Helena is now 90 years old and she will not wear her running shoes ever again, but she has a serious message: go running and enjoy it! Will we meet each other at the Ljubljana marathon!




"To say that the story of Helena Zigon's life is inspiring would be a vast understatement. As told to her fellow Slovenian runner, Jasmina Kozina Praprotnik, a first-time author, Zigon achieves a rare feat, delivering a compelling tale of relentless perseverance without a hint of self-aggrandisement. Zigon's demonstration of athletic prowess is all the more astonishing for having continued well into old age. 'I am not so young anymore,' the octogenarian marathoner says, with disarming candor. 'I just have to make sure that I run with moderation and wisdom.' As she does so, mile after exhausting mile, Zigon ruminates on her life's highs and lows, among them her mother's abandonment of a young Helena. 'What would she have said if she had seen how fast I was, if she had seen me win?' Zigon wonders wistfully. 'Would she have been proud of me?' Readers of The Long Running Life of Helene Zigon will doubtless identify with this remarkable woman's yearnings."
-Nick Madigan, correspondent for The New York Times

"This is a luminous and inspiring account. Praprotnik's book is full of wisdom about how running-in life's toughest times-can be one's salvation. I will feel Helena Zigon's courageous spirit on my morning runs along the Slovenian coast."
-Joji Sakurai, journalist published in the Financial Times, New York Times, New Statesman, and Foreign Policy


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