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Do You Know? Jerry Flanagan

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DYK-Jerry-Running-1When Jerry Flanagan was in high school in Hearne, his friends dubbed him “Flash” for obvious reasons. He ran fast. He was on the high school track team, and not many of his teammates or opponents could beat him. Though he will say he is not a perfect runner, Flanagan does say that consistency plays an important role in his success as a runner—just like it did during his more than 37 year tenure as an employee with the United States Post Office and as a soldier in the U.S. Air Force. Flanagan says, “No matter what you try to do, don’t give up or give in … just keep moving.”

When you graduated from high school, what were your plans?

I was not really sure what I wanted to do. Then I met with the recruiters from the Air Force, and I told them to go ahead and take me. I graduated from high school, and two weeks later I was in the Air Force.

What role did you serve in the Air Force?

I was a part of an intelligence unit.  I served in security services in the Far East—Okinawa, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. Basically, what we did was search for information and look for someone who fit the descriptions of those who wanted to do harm to the United States. We went in civilian clothes. One time, I got involved in a fight with Chinese nationals. My partner had to pull me away. We didn’t stick around. We ran back to our hotel. I remember that I had a brand new tailored shirt, and they had torn it. When I got back to the U.S. and was unpacking, my dad asked me what had happened to my shirt. I just kind of smiled and said I got into a little thing.

After the Air Force when you were back stateside, what did you do?

Well, my dad knew that the City of Houston was hiring. He introduced me to a friend of his who was a department head, and then I was hired as an accounting clerk. It didn’t take long for me to move up to senior accounting clerk. I found out that the post office was hiring. I got in, and the rest is history…I was there for 37 years.

DYK-Jerry-Looking-RightWhat positions did you hold?

I got in on the ground floor and did a little bit of everything. One of my supervisors got to talking to us and said that we had futures in the post office.  I just felt like it would be good for my family, and the wages would be excellent. I worked my way up to supervisor and then to postmaster. I was the postmaster in Midway, Gladewater, and Crockett.

Was there anything in particular that you valued the most about your postal service?

(pausing)… There was something new every day. I never let my employees deal with things that I couldn’t or wouldn’t do myself. Overall, it was a normal job. I miss the people that I would see every day, getting their mail and all. And I miss the people I worked with.

Any particular memory that sticks out in your mind about your job or odd situations that you had to deal with?

(a laugh slipped out) There was this one time when I was sitting behind the counter, and I could hear two individuals squabbling in the lobby. I asked them to take it outside. They went outside, and we could see and hear them still going at it. We called the police, and the officer who came was a little like Barney Fife. He pulled out his weapon, and it was very obvious that the individuals didn’t have any weapons. They were just arguing.

Why did you decide to retire?

I had a long career with the U.S. Post Office, and it was time to move on and open the doors for others to step in.

Since retiring, what do you do in your spare time?

I spend time with my family, volunteer in the community where I feel like I am needed, and I run. Running has been a part of my life since I was a boy. I spend a lot of time training and working out with weights, and sometimes I help others who run.

Where do you run?

I work out here in Madisonville and run here for training, and then I run with a running club in Huntsville. I have been running in races all over the state of Texas. I have even run in the Boston Marathon. I have medals from them all, several trophies and plaques.

The Boston Marathon?

Yes, I had tried several times to qualify, and finally was allowed to. Shortly prior to the marathon, I dropped a 25 pound plate on my foot. I was sure I had broken my toe.  It was still swollen before I went, but I just felt like I would go ahead and move through the pain. I had qualified to run in the Boston Marathon and, for someone my age, that says something. So, my son went with me. I felt like I was okay and could do it. The first five miles is downhill, so I was sure that it would be okay. Come mile 18 though, I was feeling it.  The first aid station didn’t have any aspirin, and I was out. This route goes through Boston College. I was struggling, and I walked some. There were some students who saw that I was having a problem and wanted to help me. They gave me some Tylenol and water. Some of the students decided to walk with me as encouragement.

Strangers walked with you?

Yeah, there were a few of them. I told them they didn’t have to, but they wanted to. So, we walked together for three or four miles. Running has given me the opportunity to meet new people who I wouldn’t ordinarily have had the chance to meet.  When I got to mile 25, I felt like I was going to make it in.

What was the last portion of the marathon like?

I was hurting, but when I got to the last 100 yards, I started running. My son joined me during part of it. I finished in like six hours. It was painful, but I did it. I got a finisher’s medal.

DYK-Jerry-Running-2When did you start running competitively?

I had competed in high school, but I just ran for fun in the late 1970s and the early 1980s. In the middle of 1990s, I ran in my first marathon in Dallas. I retired in 2002 and started qualifying for other races.

The broken toe wasn’t your first injury—you also broke your hip, and doctors told you not to run anymore. Why do you still do it?

I fell and broke my hip around three years go. I went through surgery and therapy, and everyone was telling me that I shouldn’t be able to run, much less walk as I do. But I was not going to give up. Doctors gave me the go-ahead, though they were still in shock that I had recovered as I had. Why do I still do it? I like running. It is not to prove anything to anyone but myself.

How did you get the nick name “The Flash?”

I was running track in high school. I would get into position at the starting line and just take off, and eased into the running progressively.

You run with guys half your age, and you are beating them. How are they responding to you?

Pretty well…some of them are surprised. They will make jokes, but overall they are very positive.

I was in a race once and was closing in on the leader, a guy who was half my age. He kept his distance, and then I tried to move in three times, and he never would let go.

And then what happened?

I kept at it, and finally he gave up, and we got across the finish line. He came over to me, and he said he thought he had got me and didn’t expect me to run around him.

So, there plays the consistency that you talked about?

DYK-Folded-HandsRight. Even though I am an older guy, I run. I did well, do well. I want to dispel the myth that older people can’t run. Some older people who run are fast. It is because they keep at it. As a postmaster and a runner, I faced challenges every day, and I always did…do…what it takes to be successful. Be consistent in what you do. Be consistent in your words and deeds.

Any advice you would give for living life?

Life is just a walk. Believe in the brighter side of things. Keep moving forward. Every day, walk forward and do your best.

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