'An inspiration to us all': 90-year old Crystal Lake man still runs 3 miles a day
George Diedrichs wakes up every morning, laces up his running shoes and heads out on a mission.
Around 7:30 a.m., Diedrichs heads west on Barlina Road in Crystal Lake to Golf Course Road, then turns left. He runs a mile to Ackman Road, then turns around and retraces his path back home.
When Diedrichs reaches the intersection of Barlina and McHenry Avenue, he blows a kiss skyward with both hands, then draws a heart in the air with his index fingers.
"That's what I do. I'm a religious person," Diedrichs said. "It's my personal thing. I say, 'Thank you, Lord. I love you.' I always give thanks every time I finish a workout or a race."
And that is a lot of thanks, because Diedrichs just celebrated his 90th birthday on Dec. 18. At an age when most people would not bother, Diedrichs embraces the challenge of running 3 miles every day.
With Diedrichs, "every day" is far closer to literal than figurative.
On the coldest days of 2022, just before Christmas, Diedrichs bundled up and ran in weather of 20-below wind chills.
Diedrichs, who in his mid-60s was still running 5K races at close to 21:00, is frustrated that he doesn't move faster these days. Others, however, are impressed and inspired that he still is moving.
"I've really slowed down," Diedrichs said. "I hope I can at least jog, slow jogging now. If I have to [eventually], I'll walk. Some people who walk may get more exercise than I do because some people pass me up, and that's embarrassing. But more power to them.
"Hardly a week goes by where I don't meet someone who says, 'I've seen you for years. I always wanted to meet you. You inspire me.' Which, of course, inspires me, too. Or somebody pulls over in a car and says something. One lady came over and wanted to take a selfie."
Diedrichs is admired by all, runners who know him and stop to talk to him, as well as people who see him on their morning drives.
Crystal Lake South's girls cross country team gave Diedrichs a Gators girls cross country shirt last summer. The girls often ran at the same time as Diedrichs and they offered each other encouragement. Diedrichs even attends some of the Gators' meets.
"He's honestly such an inspiration to all of us," said South senior Bella Gonzalez, a Class 2A All-State runner. "He's 90 years old and getting at it every single day. I strive to be doing that when I'm older and having that dedication and perseverance. I don't even know how he does it, it's amazing."
George Diedrichs, who just celebrated his 90h birthday, runs along Barlina Road in Crystal Lake for his daily 3-mile run.
- Gregory Shaver/Shaw Local News Network
'Little old man who runs'
Jacinta McEneaney, 62, lives in the neighborhood where Diedrichs runs. She took up running at age 46 and Diedrichs was a major reason why.
McEneaney saw Diedrichs each morning when she drove her children to school.
"I'd be like, 'Look at that little, old man. He's out there doing it. Every single day.'" McEneaney said. "That was way before I started running. I always say he's my inspiration. If that little old man can do it, I can do it.
"I started running in 2006. I met George [after that] on Golf Course and Barlina one day. He used to see me running all the time and he stopped me and asked my name. I got to know him and we'd talk about family. He's a cute, old guy."
When McEneaney happened to be shopping recently at the Irish Boutique in Long Grove, she met a mother and daughter from Crystal Lake who recognized McEneaney as a runner. They mentioned Diedrichs as "that little old man who runs all the time. I think he's in his 70s."
"I said, 'Oh, little George?' " McEneaney replied. "He just turned 90 today."
George Diedrichs, who just celebrated his 90h birthday, holds some of his running medals at his Crystal Lake home.
- Gregory Shaver/Shaw Local News Network
Quite an athlete
Diedrichs grew up in Chicago and graduated from Kelvyn Park High School in 1951. He was a star baseball player who Baseball Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby coached. At that time, Diedrichs said, Hornsby was hired by the Chicago Daily News to go around to Chicago parks and work with youngsters.
Hornsby took a liking to Diedrichs, seeing him as a promising second baseman.
"He treated me like I was one of his sons," Diedrichs said. "That was really quite a deal. He took me around on his trips in Illinois and Indiana for baseball schools. I should have stuck with Hornsby if I wanted to be a major league player. I think the reason he took an interest in me is he saw this desire I had."
Diedrichs eventually was picked up by the Washington Senators organization (before the Senators moved to Minnesota and became the Twins). He had a brief minor league career but was drafted into the Army in 1953 and was deployed to South Korea for the end of the Korean War.
Diedrichs was in South Korea for the last 16 months of the war, sending and decoding messages. When he returned to the U.S., Diedrichs owned a phonograph store for about seven years, then worked as a mechanical drawer at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Glenview for 13 years.
George and Flora, his wife of 53 years, lived in Palatine for 25 years and moved to Crystal Lake 25 years ago. They have twins, George Jr. and Joy, and a daughter Ginger.
Diedrichs started running in the 1960s and grew very competitive. He is proud that during a five-year stretch from ages 67 to 72, he was first in his age group 118 times in 127 races.
Flora Diedrichs enjoyed running for more than 20 years herself but now sticks to walking. She said she is proud of her husband, yet still worries about him.
"I think it's terrific," Flora said. "But sometimes I wish he would slow down and only go a few times a week instead of every single day. He really is unstoppable."
George Diedrichs pulls out a picture from last summer when he was painting the soffit on their house on Monterey Drive -- up 30 feet on a ladder.
"I was having a heart attack," Flora said. "He does what he wants. I'm having heart palpitations sometimes. He says, 'I can handle it.' I get it. I'm still always very concerned. The only time he won't go out [to run] is if there is lightning."
Crystal Lake resident Rich Monbrod, 61, met Diedrichs at a race about 20 years ago.
"He's older than me, and he can remember stuff better than we can," Monbrod said. "I'm trying to remember which race I met him at. He probably remembers. He's got a memory like an elephant."
When asked where they met, Diedrichs thought for a second. "It was in Barrington," he said.
Monbrod was a serious runner and was blown away at Diedrichs' times.
"He ran fast times, not too much different than what I was running at the time," Monbrod said. "Even in my 40s, probably my best 5K times were under 19, George was right around there. I thought to myself, 'Man, if this guy's this fast …'"
When Diedrichs reached his 70s, he often competed against runners 10 years younger since there were no older age groups.
"A lot of times, as I got into my 70s and older, mostly in 71 through 74, there were a lot of runs when the top [age group] was 65 and older," Diedrichs said. "Usually I won those, too. Sometimes I came in second place."
In 2013, at age 80, Diedrichs ran a five-mile race in just less than an hour.
Monbrod, like so many others, remains inspired by Diedrichs.
"He's just someone who keeps plugging," Monbrod said. "When I met him he said he runs every single day. I don't do that. I know guys like that. It's one thing for teenagers to do it, but for a 90-year-old guy to be doing that is remarkable."
George Diedrichs stretches after finishing his daily 3-mile run.
- Gregory Shaver/Shaw Local News Network
A friend to all
Gonzalez remembered seeing Diedrichs running when she was going into the eighth grade. A couple years later, the South girls occasionally stopped to talk to Diedrichs during their summer morning runs.
"He came to quite a few [meets] and was always supporting us," Gonzalez said. "After races he would talk to us. It was always nice having him there."
McEneaney experienced the same support when she ran her first half-marathon.
"He said, 'Do you know your time was 1:30-something?' " McEneaney said. "He was always there to support me. He'd be like, 'How'd you do?' "
If there is one thing Diedrichs enjoys as much as running, it's making new acquaintances. Last May, Susan Cameron, of Crystal Lake, stopped Diedrichs and asked to take a selfie with him. Cameron posted it on Facebook and received 39 comments and 483 "Likes."
"She had seen me for years and met me and said it made her day," Diedrichs said. "A lot of nice things. And she got all those positive responses. I just couldn't believe it."
Cameron is not a runner but just admired him from seeing him run when she was driving. Another woman did something similar last February and the post received 47 comments and 189 "Likes."
Joy Huckeby, Diedrichs' daughter, had someone suggest she join a Crystal Lake page on Facebook. When she did, she found a post about her father.
"Nothing stops him," Huckeby said. "So many people just know of him from him running every day."
Those reactions make Diedrichs smile.
"It was pretty much the same thing. Inspiration seems to be the big word," Diedrichs said. "I'm glad that I do it. Frankly, at my age, I'm in overtime now. I'm in the ninth inning and I hope not with two outs.
"I feel that really the best thing I can do is make people happy. Whenever the time comes that I leave this world, I hope I've left it better than when I came in."