Mary Kaplin sets her pace at the beginning of the Tarrant County 5K needed to run all 254 Texas counties for a second time.
Mary Kaplin sets her pace at the beginning of the Tarrant County 5K needed to run all 254 Texas counties for a second time. Credit: Courtesy / Hal Kaplin

When Mary Kaplan began running in 1983, it wasn’t necessarily by choice. That year, the Air Force decided walking would no longer be considered as an aerobic activity, which forced the then-43-year old nurse to pick up her pace.

She immediately fell in love with the sport and began participating in organized runs throughout the country, setting a goal to run a race in all 50 states, which she ultimately achieved. Now 79, Kaplan is the founder of the 254 Running Club, whose members pledge to run a race in all 254 Texas counties.

“I am the only person who has completed all 254 counties,” said Kaplan, who accomplished the feat between 2010-16. “The reason I formed the club is because I had set the goal for myself, and as I told people about it at the different runs I did, they also thought it would be fun. It’s also a nice way to give to charity, and see interesting and new places.”

After completing 5K runs in all 254 counties, Kaplan started her count over again, pledging to run the counties again to support the other 20 members of the club working toward the same goal. When she spoke to the Rivard Report on Saturday, she had just completed a 5K run in Bonham, Texas. “One of our club members who is 83 years old needed this county, so that’s why we came up to run it today,” she said.

Accompanied by her husband, who photographs the races rather than running in them, the retirees drive an RV throughout the state to meet up with club members and have Kaplan participate in runs that “sound interesting, or have a nice route.”

On Sunday, she will participate in the second annual Elf Run in San Antonio, benefitting the Children’s Rehabilitation Institute TeletonUSA (CRIT), the first pediatric rehabilitation clinic in the nation to offer comprehensive medical and mental health treatment to children with neurological and musculoskeletal disabilities. The 5K race weaves runners through Morgan’s Wonderland, around Heroes Stadium, and onto the CRIT campus northeast of downtown.

“I picked this race mainly because I thought that it sounded like a good charity, and it would be a way for me the enjoy a different area of San Antonio as well,” Kaplan said.

In its second year, the Elf Run has more than doubled in size, with 250 people registered to run on Sunday, said Lisa Marie Barocas, director of development marketing and communications with CRIT. “It’s a fundraiser that supports the programs we have here at CRIT,” whose rehabilitation services are often provided at little to no cost, Barocas said.

To accommodate all who wish to participate, the run offers an adaptive version for both the 1K and the 5K race, allowing participants with special needs or mobility devices, including walkers and wheelchairs, to enjoy the course.

Barocas told the Rivard Report that the Elf Run is “honored” to have Kaplan participate after hearing about her running club, and how it’s centered around supporting those who have a common goal. “We have a lot of people who want to participate [in physical activity] who have a disability, and it’s important for us to encourage them” and make accommodations as needed, she said.

Kaplan is the only member of the 254 Running Club participating in the event, and the oldest participant registered for the race. “I have run a lot in Bexar County [in the past], but not this year,” she said.

For those interested in more information about the 254 Running Club, it is an organization with no online presence; members keep in touch mainly via email. If you leave your email in the comments section below, the Rivard Report can help you connect.

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.