Running for Love

John and Sue O'Malley stand in the Father Lopez Catholic High School track before she starts practice on Thursday, Jan. 16.

Sue O’Malley is almost 60 and her husband John is 66.

But the Port Orange couple share a love of running that began when he was a sports reporter taking a few laps around a track with her, profiling her as a top high school runner years ago in Pennsylvania.

The couple have been married since 1991 and have lived in Port Orange since 2001.

On Jan. 16, John “JJ” O’Malley celebrated 30 years of running every single day. And on Jan. 19, Sue competed in her 1,000th running race, the Shark Bite in New Smyrna Beach.

Ms. O’Malley has been running for 45 years, including competing in high school and college. Besides road racing, she has competed in track meets. A long-time educator, she is a substitute teacher at Father Lopez Catholic High School in Daytona Beach and is serving in her 16th year of coaching track and field and cross country for both boys and girls there. She coached the boy’s cross-country team in 2015 to the school’s first state title.

She has run one to five miles every day for the past year. She stated she had an adverse reaction to a flu shot in 2013 that caused nerve and brain damage, compromising her ability to perform as she had been prior to the shot. Her current normal competitive race is the 5K.

“I think (running) is a special gift that God has given to me,” Ms. O'Malley said. “The competition comes from within me. It doesn’t come from anything else. My husband and daughter are very supportive. I do have a network – my cross-country kids, the track program, even the other athletic programs at Father Lopez are very supportive, and my other running friends.”

She added, “I love running in the morning. I am up every morning about 5:15. That’s my prayer time. There’s nobody around.”

Ms. O’Malley still holds Stroudsburg High School's mile and two-mile records. Her college record at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania was only broken four years ago.

In 1983, she was the first woman to cross the finish line in the Sri Chinmoy marathon at Shea Stadium. She won the Marine Corps Marathon in 1983, which qualified her for the first women’s Olympic Marathon Trials in 1984. One of her suite mates was Joan Benoit Samuelson, who won the trials and then the Olympic golf medal in Los Angeles that year. She also roomed with Sister Marion Irvine, a renowned marathon runner, who was also a nun. She also has appeared on a Wheaties box.

To date, she has won 281 races as overall female, 109 of them as a master’s runner (age 40 and over) and 60 overall wins as a grandmaster (age 50 and over).

Mr. O’Malley is a semi-retired writer who has published 13 books. He graduated from King’s College in Pennsylvania. He started running every morning in 1977 and ran the New York marathon that year.

Since then he has run almost every day, with Jan. 16 representing 30 years of running every day consecutively no matter the weather or where he may be, even on vacation, usually averaging three to five miles.

He has competed in 843 races to date and 93 marathons. He won the gold medal in the 1997 Empire State Games and placed fifth in the 1982 Empire State Building Run-Up. He never ran in high school or college.

Mr. O’Malley is the Deputy Grand Knight of Council 8086 at Our Lady of Hope Church in Port Orange and is the Faithful Navigator and Color Corps Commander of Assembly 2794, the Assembly’s Fourth Degree.

“I’m going to (continue to) compete even though I’m not as fast as I used to be. I enjoy it. It is something that keeps me fit,” he said. “I’ve (even) run around the Vatican. We did run around the deck of the cruise ship on our honeymoon.”

Both John and Sue O’Malley have run the Boston Marathon numerous times. They were also each selected to carry the Olympic torch for part of the Olympic Torch cross country relay prior to the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. Together the two have logged close to 186,000 miles over the open road. They never use music or headphones. Mr. O’Malley said, “I listen to the birds.”

Ms. O’Malley, who will be 60 July 15, will become a senior grand master runner. She has no plans to stop running or competing. Neither does her husband.

The couple have a daughter Erin Marie O’Malley who works in Daytona Beach. Both Mr. and Ms. O’Malley serve as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion at Our Lady of Hope.

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