Rich Archbold: Grandson turns tables on grandpa at Long Beach Marathon

From the time he was a baby, 21 years ago, Derek Reiser annually watched grandfather Ken Purucker run in the Long Beach Marathon.

But this year, the roles were reversed. Grandpa Ken, 85, stood on the sidelines on Sunday, Oct. 9, and watched his grandson cross the finish line, completing his first Long Beach Marathon in about 3 hours and 50 minutes.

“He made it!” Grandpa Ken shouted. “He did it! Fantastic!”

He gave his grandson a big hug.

Purucker has become a local legend in running circles, as a member of the Legacy Runners of the Long Beach Marathon. These are runners who have participated in every one of the Long Beach Marathons or half-marathons since the race started in 1982. Grandpa Ken, a retired Long Beach dentist now living in Leisure World, in Seal Beach, continued his streak this year by completing a 13.1-mile virtual run in his neighborhood.

On Sunday, Grandpa Ken remembered stopping near mile 20 of the Long Beach Marathon 21 years ago, seeing his grandson, Derek, then 2 months old, in a stroller.

Legacy Runners John Sumpter, Jim Warnemeunde and George Wallims celebrate finishing the half-marathon on Sunday, Oct. 9. They have now participated in all 38 Long Beach Marathons. (Photo by Rich Archbold, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

Derek Reiser, middle, celebrates completing his first Long Beach Marathon with his family. On either side of him, from left, sister Julia Reiser, father Steve Reiser, mother Karla Reiser, grandfather Ken Purucker and grandmother Anne Purucker. (Photo by and courtesy of Dan Cruz, Long Beach Marathon)

Derek Reiser, left, with Ken Purucker, his grandfather and inspiration for running in his first Long Beach Marathon. (Photo by and courtesy of Dan Cruz, Long Beach Marathon)

Race Director Natalia Mendez at the 38th Long Beach Marathon on Sunday, Oct. 9. (Photo by Rich Archbold, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

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“I leaned down and gave him a hug,” Purucker remembered. “Today, I am just so proud of him.”

Reiser, in an interview after the race, told Long Beach Marathon publicist Dan Cruz that Grandpa Ken was his inspiration for running.

“My grandfather made me want to follow in his footsteps,” Reiser said. “I was always so impressed and looked up to him because of his consistency and dedication to do it every year. I’m really proud to have him to look up to.”

Reiser, who said he was “very tired” after his first marathon, ran track and cross country in high school. He is now a junior at Cal Baptist University, in Riverside. He runs 5 to 8 miles daily, five days a week.

When Reiser crossed the finish line, he became the third generation of the Purucker family to have completed the Long Beach Marathon. Grandpa Ken’s son, Alan, also completed the race in the 1980s.

But this moment may have had special significance, with the elder Purucker saying his grandson was “kind of taking my place, carrying the torch.”

Purucker, who said he has run in 64 or 65 marathons, including two in Boston, said he has many stories to tell.

He particularly likes telling one that involves his brother, David, who ran the marathon just six weeks after having triple bypass surgery. When his brother crossed the finish line, Purucker took him to the medical tent to make sure he was all right.

A volunteer didn’t believe his brother had recently undergone bypass surgery until she saw his scar. David Purucker did not compete in this year’s race.

But Grandpa Ken, a Wilson High School graduate and student at Long Beach City College, said he was inspired to run after his father died of a heart attack at 50 years old. Purucker said he felt he needed to run “to keep my heart healthy.”

Purucker, meanwhile, wasn’t the only Legacy Runner at the 38th Long Beach Marathon on Sunday.

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Other Legacy Runners to also participate Sunday were: Jim Warnemuende, a former communications teacher and dean at LBCC who now lives in Sacramento; John Sumpter, a golf coach at Poly High School; and George Wallims, a sailing instructor living in Huntington Beach.

They all said they were tired but happy to finish the race.

“I’m just glad I finished. The pain comes and goes,” Sumpter said.

“Anybody who runs in a marathon is a winner,” Warnemuende added, “no matter where they finish.”

Wallims agreed:

“To finish is to win.”

Also competing in the marathon were Legacy Runners Calvin Lau, Ken Williams, Michael Benov, Wayne Fong, Tom “Frosty” Frost” and Lorenzo Herrera.

“They are an inspiration to so many people,” race Director Natalia Mendez said about the Legacy Runners. “What they have done, despite advancing years and health issues is amazing. They truly are the backbone of the race and the community.”