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At 76, Brooklyn Senior Is a Thousand Steps Ahead of You

While most 76-year-olds prefer the elevator to stairs, that is not the case for Manhattan Beach resident Al Puma. Puma recently raced up the 86 floors, 1,576 steps and 1,050 feet to the 86th floor observatory in the 29th Annual Bank of America Empire State Building Run-Up. Puma, a retired general contractor, finished first in his age class, 94th out of 149 men, and 148th out of 226 total contestants with a time of 23 minutes and 49 seconds. “I hold on to the handrail and do two steps at a time. The handrail helps reduce your weight and you can use it to pull yourself up,” Puma said, explaining his stair-racing style. Puma said he always enjoyed exercise and played softball every Sunday after moving into Manhattan Beach from Bensonhurst in 1963. “When I hit 40 years old, the big tennis craze hit and I played a lot with a friend, Barry Goldsmith, who suggested I take up jogging to get more endurance,” recalled Puma. Puma said at age 47, he started jogging for 20 minutes each evening to work up an appetite for dinner. The route went from Mackenzie and Shore Boulevards to West End Avenue and back – about a mile and a half, recalled Puma. Puma said he began enjoying jogging more than tennis in that you never lose, can do it alone and in all kinds of weather. In time, Puma’s daughter encouraged her father to enter road races, and shortly thereafter, Puma became among the elite of the 50+ age-group runners in all of New York. Puma said he mainly ran the 5K and 5-mile distance races. However, at age 63, Puma, after a few knee operations, heard about a charity Cystic Fibrosis stair climb race up a 50-story building. “It [the stair climb] was rather easy for me and I did it pretty quickly,” said Puma. “The very next year I entered the Empire State Building run-up and did well.” Now after doing his 14th consecutive race up the Empire State Building stairwell, Puma said he lost some speed, but that it’s understandable considering his age. The Empire State Building run-up was Puma’s 758th race. Among the other run-up races he has competed in include the Mellon Bank Center Run-up in Philadelphia and the John Hancock Run-up in Boston. As for training, Puma said he has access to a 40-story building and he begins training for the Empire State Building race in the fall, by running up the building’s stairs two or three times a week. Additionally, Puma belongs to the Chelsea Gym in Manhattan, where he swims and works out several days a week. Puma said he smoked for 27 years, but quit when he was 45. “I drink a glass of wine at dinner and modify my diet to current standards,” Puma said. “I don’t overeat and stay away from simple carbs, with no sweets, fried food or soda. I have fish almost every night and steak once a week,” he added. Puma also gave this advice to couch potatoes trying to take off some after New Year’s weight. “If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will and you’re the most important person in the world,” said Puma. “You should devote part of your daily activities to yourself and your favorite exercise discipline,” he added.

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