Ro Soucy crossed the finish line at the Gasparilla Distance Classic 15K with a time of 1:41:24. His 10:51 pace over the 9.3 miles was good enough to earn him the top race time in his age division.

Not bad for an 83-year old.

“I had one guy say, ‘Hey, you’re getting old,' as I was finishing up here,” he said with a sly smile. “I just love it.”

Ro, short for Roland, moved to Florida from Massachusetts in 1972. He quit smoking three years prior and took up running as a hobby. He has lost count of all the marathons he’s run – he guesses 13 – but knows that there is one race looming that will check a box off his bucket list.

“It was different,” he said. “The Skyway was different.”

Shortly after Ro moved to Pinellas County, one of Florida’s most iconic bridges came crumbling down. A 600-foot long barge, the MV Summit Venture, struck a Sunshine Skyway Bridge support pillar on May 9, 1980. More than 1,000 feet of concrete plunged into the water. Seven cars and a Greyhound bus full of passengers drove off the gaping hole in the bridge and into Tampa Bay. The accident killed 35 people.

Ro, who served in the USAF from 1954 to 1958, remembers the accident well.

“I just remember one story of this one guy going to work going southbound and half of his car was hanging over the edge. He just got out and was running back and it dawned on him that he forgot his golf clubs and we went back over to the trunk, which I can’t believe,” Ro recalled. “In fact, I looked it up and it shows the photo of his car hanging over the bridge.”

The bridge was deemed unfixable and was demolished in 1993. Construction on a new bridge began in 1982 and was completed in 1987. Before it was opened to traffic, the community was invited to run across the new span that connected Pinellas and Manatee counties.

Ro was there.

Now, more than 31 years later, avid runners and ocean scene-seekers alike with get the chance to run across the bridge again in Sunday’s inaugural Skyway 10K. Ro missed the early sign-up period but was granted access to the race after winning an essay-contest offered by the race committee, asking why entrants should be given a spot among the other 7,000 runners on Sunday, March 4.

“I am a U.S. Air Force veteran, a retired firefighter paramedic, and this event will be added to my bucket list at the age of 83,” he said, reading his essay from a typed sheet of paper. “I ran the original 10K Skyway bridge opening celebration run.”

Related: Part of Sunshine Skyway Bridge set to close Sunday morning for inaugural 10K

He is excited about the chance to run high above Tampa Bay again. Ro has trained for weeks for Gasparilla and for this Skyway “fun run”. He runs early in the morning every day but Friday. Sometimes he runs up to 20 miles per week.

It impresses all his friends.

“It’s very special and I’m sure that’s what they recognized when they read his essay,” said Ro’s girlfriend, Elaine Anagnos.

The run will benefit the Armed Forces Family Foundation. All of the proceeds from the Skyway 10K will benefit the AFFF and will go directly toward projects to support military families.

For a retired Air Force radio technician like Ro, that’s just another reason to run.

“It’s going to be tremendous,” he said. “I can’t wait.”

Related: What you need to know for the inaugural Skyway 10K

Previous: Train for the Skyway 10K with Allison Kropff

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