WESTERLY — Westerly resident Ann Kerrigan-Amaral competed in her first walking race seven years ago, when she was 55. She hopes to do so for the rest of her life and without the aid of a walker.
“At 61, I’m in the prime of my life,” Kerrigan-Amaral said. “I know I’ll be able to do it my whole life. And I surely hope I won’t need a walker to do it. That’s the goal. I want to get older gracefully.”
Her first competitive walking race was the Blessing of the Fleet race in 2007 on a 10-mile course through historic Narragansett — an annual mid-summer event for the past 42 years. It is listed as one of the top three races at that distance in New England.
There is a separate race for runners and for walkers. A total of 3,065 competitors finished in 2013 — 2,706 runners and 359 walkers. There were more than 700 participants in her inaugural 10-mile walk in 2007.
The 2013 walkers ranged in age from 9 into the 80s. The overall winners the past four years are now 60 (male) and 53 (his wife). Kerrigan-Amaral only races at this annual event. She finished third overall three times (2007, 2009, 2013), second overall three times (2008, 2010, 2011) and fourth once (2012). She was the top female finisher twice (2011, 2013). Her 2013 time for the 10-mile walk was 1 hour, 50 minutes and 41 seconds.
“I had done the Blessing of the Fleet 10-mile run twice before I first tried the 10-mile walk in 2007,” KerriganAmaral said. “I had no idea how I’d do. I started out just looking ahead and walking as fast as I could. About halfway through I wondered where everybody was.
“Around the 7 or 8-mile marker, a woman spectator yelled out to me, ‘You go lady; you’re number three.’ I looked back and saw a big crowd of walkers behind me. So I did finish third overall. But my family was not at the finish line. I’d told them to meet me there in a few hours so they wound up arriving late.
“I do it for fun. But I really would like to win the whole race at least once. I’ve always described myself as noncompetitive, but I guess I do have a bit of competitiveness when it comes to this race.”
Kerrigan-Amaral grew up with neither opportunities to compete in high school sports nor expectations to be athletic thereafter. She graduated in 1970 from Hope High School in Providence and in 1974 from URI with a degree in education and psychology.
“There were no competitive sports for girls at Hope High,” Kerrigan-Amaral said. “They only allowed us to walk around the track. To run wouldn’t have been ‘feminine.’ I say that to women today and they just can’t imagine it.”
Kerrigan-Amaral is a career professional in human resources and has worked for Pfizer the past 12 years as part of their global human resource network. She resides in Westerly with her husband Gil (an avid bicyclist) and is the mother of two sons Greg and Bryan, both of whom played basketball at Westerly High and are UConn graduates.
Kerrigan-Amaral said she always ran — as a jogger and even twice as a runner in the Blessing of the Fleet 10-mile run. She hurt her back, had disk surgery and was told not to run anymore.
“I was not going to sit still,” Kerrigan-Amaral said. “I started walking a bit around the track at Westerly High and ran (walked) into Joe Light, who is known by many as the ‘Westerly Walker.’ He said you should try walking-races. He showed me some techniques. He’s been my inspiration ever since.
“I still walk like a duck — it’s my own version. But I’ve got my rhythm down and I’m fast.”
She does not train by walking. She said she uses the treadmill in her home for 45 minutes almost every day. And she sets the speed high (between 4.7 and 5.0) to move as fast as a runner.
“I’ve always enjoyed exercise,” Kerrigan-Amaral said. “It makes me feel good. I try to fit it in when I can do it; otherwise it’s too much of an effort. My treadmill is always there. I don’t have to worry about the weather — it doesn’t matter.”
She has been exercising since her 20s and walking competitively since her mid-50s. She said that has been a key in maintaining good health and a very busy schedule as a working professional and a wife and mother.
“It has increased my stamina,” Kerrigan-Amaral said. “I don’t get tired. I have tremendous energy — always have. I like the fact that I can do things. Overall I’m healthy. But with my prior back problems I don’t take chances. I don’t have the time to be laid up.
“I can’t walk slowly. Like when I’m in Manhattan, I really get annoyed on a crowded street. I walk in only one race a year. I feel like I’ve proven something to myself.
“Why do I do it? It’s simple. I don’t need fancy equipment. It works for me. I just like it.”