Joggin’ Ginny: Ginny Ragatz
Weather conditions mean nothing to this runner
No matter if it’s a 30-below wind chill or a sizzling 98 degrees, Ginny Ragatz thinks it’s a good day to hit the sidewalk.
The 60-year-old west-sider might be the most dedicated sidewalk jogger in Madison’s history, logging 8 to 10 miles on workdays and 12 to 14 miles on her days off, rain or shine. Hot or cold. Seriously – she’s been spotted in a near blizzard before.
“The only thing that I’m hesitant to go out in is an ice storm,” she says. “But I don’t just mean a patch of ice on the sidewalk. I mean an ice storm. And that’s very seldom.”
You can see Ragatz coming from a mile away. There’s a limp in her stride, and one arm swings like a pendulum across her body with each step.
After a doctor’s visit about six years ago, Ragatz learned she had a torn tendon in her right ankle and swelling inside the bone of her right arch. “I don’t know how it happened,” Ragatz says. “I was just finding myself limping at one point.”
But that doesn’t stop her from reaching between 35,000 and 40,000 steps a day. Her $900 orthotic inserts help keep her high-arched feet pain-free. Ragatz, who grew up in the Grant County village of Potosi and now lives in Madison, has been running or walking nearly every day since her freshman year of high school. After she graduated from high school and started working at William C. Brown Publishing Co. in Dubuque, Iowa, she ran an hour before work, on her lunch break, on her coffee breaks and in the evening. “I have never been one to sit down for a coffee break,” Ragatz says. The Dubuque Telegraph Herald wrote an article about her in 1977, headlined “Joggin’ Ginny” – a name friends and co-workers gave her.
While today her jog has slowed down to a brisk walk, Ragatz at one time was a race-winning talent. In 1978, the then-19-year-old competed in her first race, a half marathon, and she placed first in her age bracket. Her second race was a full marathon in La Crosse – and she was the first-place female runner in her age group then, too.
But her love of running has never been about the accolades. She turned down the track coach at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse when he asked her to join the team. She wanted to focus on academics.
“I do it as much for the mental benefits as I do for the physical,” Ragatz says. When she’s on her sidewalk route, she’s usually plugged into her MP3 player and listening to inspirational music, or she’s talking on her cellphone. “It’s kind of a combination of my social life and my entertainment.
I just love activity and love the outdoors,” she says.
Another thing Ragatz loves is fundraising for causes she cares about. When Ragatz lived in Whitewater in the 1980s, she fundraised for and competed in 26 races in one year, and placed first, second or third for women in most of them. And just as Ragatz goes all-in with running, she goes all-in with fundraising.
She goes door-to-door asking for donations and gets to know her neighbors and community members. She sends solicitation letters and organizes fundraising teams. Today, “Team Ginny” marks its sixth year as the top fundraising team for Gilda’s Club Madison. Gilda’s Club, a nonprofit cancer support community, is one of two local charities she focuses her fundraising efforts on today. The other is the American Heart Association. Her reasons for fundraising for these organizations are personal.
“I’ve lost my parents, both sets of grandparents and 17 aunts and uncles … and for the most part, the ladies had strokes and the men had heart attacks in just about every situation.” Ragatz says she has also lost many friends to cancer over the years.
Ragatz has spent eight years volunteering for Gilda’s Club, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary. She says in its six years as a top fundraiser, “Team Ginny” has raised more than $43,000.
That’s not including the $130,000 Ragatz has personally raised for multiple charities and organizations. Ragatz also served on the American Heart Association’s Dane County executive committee and as secretary for the organization’s board of directors for six years.
In the end, it doesn’t seem to be about the number of miles, the number of dollars raised or the number of trophies collected for Ragatz. The real prizes are friendships and memories made. In her home, handmade photo collages show groups of people who have become close friends of Ragatz – whose kind heart is as strong as her unique stride.
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