She was 64 years old, blind, two discs were missing from her back, and a doctor was telling her to plan on spending the rest of her life in a wheelchair. That's when Ivy Granstrom got mad.
"I told him to forget it," she says.Retiring to the wheelchair wasn't part of her plan; she wasn't interested in a wheelchair or retirement. She survived the first 64 years of her life virtually sightless, so she knew all about obstacles. Don't tell her about obstacles until you've walked a mile - no, run a mile - in her shoes.
Granstrom was born in a small mining town in Nova Scotia during a September blizzard in 1911. Something was wrong with her eyes from the start, but the midwife didn't know what to do. When her father found the town doctor, who lived five miles away, the family was told she only had a cold. By the time a few days had elapsed, she was sightless. One of the eyes was completely blind; in the other she could see only vague shapes. As the years passed, that, too faded.
Granstrom's athletic career didn't really get going, though, until her back was injured in the auto accident. Doctors speculated the she would have trouble walking, if she walked at all. But after the surgery, she began walking, then jogging. The back experts could cluck their tongues and shake their heads if they wanted. She was going out for a run.
She improved so rapidly, she decided to enter handicap athletic games in her home country of Canada. It was the start of a long string of competitions; soon she bringing home medals in bunches. Event organizers encouraged her to compete in the masters division, rather than handicap division. Over two decades later, she still is. This week she was back for the ninth straight year for the Huntsman World Senior Games, which finish up today, collecting a gold medal on Thursday in the 3,000-meter run.
Competing in the 10K, 100-, 200-, 1,500- and 3,000-meter races, and even half-marathons, Granstrom has traveled to Japan, Puerto Rico, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Finland and the United States for meets. This year alone she won five gold medals and set four world records in the Veterans' Track and Field Championships. A resident of Vancouver, B.C., she holds 19 world masters records - not handicapped records, but records for sighted runners.
"And there's more to come," she says.
Her total medal count over the years exceeds 100. "I told the schoolchildren I need to go home and count them," she says.
She has received numerous honors in Canada, including the Order of Canada, presented by the Governor General.
If that weren't enough, she does the annual Polar Bear Swim every Jan. 1 in the icy waters off Vancouver. "They wait every year for me to come," she says.
Having become a well-known figure in the Senior Games, Gran-strom is a favorite in St. George. Race officials call her the "Queen of the Senior Games." Students at a school near the finish line of the road race competition this year lined the streets and surrounded her, some weeping as they watched. Others began calling her "The Princess."
Her method for running is practical, if slightly harrowing. When she first began running, she had enough sight in one eye to distinguish the white lines on a track. But since that faded, she has been assisted by a friend, Paul Hoeberigs. They line up together at the start line. He runs alongside, holding a cloth headband, which she grasps on the other end to avoid straying off course.
"I'm the one in poor shape," says Hoeberigs. "She's in good shape. That's the problem."
Thus, on Thursday, she was back on the track to pick up another medal, smiling softly at the start line. The gun sounded and she was off. Eight trips around the track. She finished the race smiling, as well. Ho-hum. Another day, another medal.
So maybe there wasn't anyone else in her age division, but that's a small concession. She still needed to finish the race to get the gold. It wasn't her fault most of her peers opted for wheelchairs, or at least soft chairs, long ago.
"When there's no competition," says Hoeberigs, "she goes for the world records. Then she tries to better them."
"I'll tell you what," she adds, when asked how long she plans to continue competing. "If God is willing, I am."
The Queen retire? Stop coming to St. George? Get a normal life? As she told the doctor 22 years ago, you can forget that.