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Bill Thorn has finished every AJC Peachtree Road Race

Bill Thorn, a resident of Tyrone, sits on stage after running his 47th Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race on July 4, 2016. Thorn plans to run in the 2017 version of the Peachtree. (Jaylon Thompson/AJC file photo)
Bill Thorn, a resident of Tyrone, sits on stage after running his 47th Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race on July 4, 2016. Thorn plans to run in the 2017 version of the Peachtree. (Jaylon Thompson/AJC file photo)

A sprained ankle, a battle with cancer, a gashed heel gushing blood throughout an experimental shoe — even an energy drink “detrimental to life” — yet in every The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race, Bill Thorn crossed the finish line.

Going on his 48th year running the race, Thorn said he’s done more interviews this year than any before. But he relishes the ever-growing platform.

“It doesn’t bother me one bit,” he said of the constant interviews. “Some people are curious, and I feel like it’s a good thing that I speak to anybody about it and be as truthful and honest as I can. That’s just a part of what you do. I feel that I need to be thankful for what I’ve been able to do and help anybody that I can.”

Thorn has become synonymous with one of the more recognizable races nationwide. In 1970, he joined roughly 150 others and navigated through traffic and fumes to complete the inaugural — and disorganized — Peachtree Road Race.

On Tuesday, he’ll join a slightly larger crowd of 60,000 taking part in the world’s largest 10K, held annually on the Fourth of July.

“One race led to another one,” Thorn said. “People would hear about it, and then it just kept on going. … It was done the best that you could do it back at that time. … When something like that gets going, and it took off at a certain point, it just becomes another event. Who knows where it’ll go from here? Every year they could’ve had more, but they’d try to limit it to what they could control and handle. But that’s a lot of bodies …. 60,000.”

Thorn has resided in metro Atlanta 63 years after 23 years in Birmingham, Ala. He remembers the year he moved, 1954, well because it’s the same year he married the love of his life.

Working out is a staple of Thorn’s day. He has dedicated himself not only to maintaining optimal health, but to passing his wisdom to others. He’s worked the past 28 years as a track and field coach at Landmark Christian School and estimates he’s taught for more than 50 years.

His teachings revolve around simplicity. If he shows younger generations how to take care of their bodies, he hopes it translates to other responsibilities later in life.

“I try to pass that on through my years of teaching and coaching and by running the road race for 48 years,” he said. “That’s given me a platform and opportunity to speak with others and hopefully have an impact for the better on their lives. It’s just how I’ve lived.”

Thorn can’t pinpoint a specific motivation for his consistency, though he hasn’t forgotten the initial instigator. He encountered Kenneth Cooper’s “Aerobics” book in 1968. The book cites an exercise point system, with the most rewarding totals via running. Thorn quickly took to it, and running became second nature.

“I’m some kind of a driven person,” he said. “Have been from the very early days of my life.”

There have been obstacles in Thorn’s racing commitment. He had cancer, but it “never delayed” him. He sprained an ankle shortly before the race, but he took care of it as he would his students, and completed it. A chiropractor once gave him new shoes to help with his running, but a metal piece broke out, slashing his heel and producing an oozing problem.

Perhaps the most threatening challenge, he recalls, occurred three or four years ago. Thorn tried an energy drink before the race. It made him sick to the point he was about to collapse. The ambulances tried to take him off the course, but he and his granddaughter had none of it.

“What do you think you’re doing,” Thorn said his granddaughter asked the ambulances. “He’s finishing this race.”

“Not at my normal pace,” Thorn said. “But I made it through.”

Reflecting on the past 47 races, Thorn said he’s appreciative to still be going strong. He credits his discipline and relationship with God for that. He believes that one succeeds at what he or she does continuously. That means staying focused and determined — something he declared is a foolproof philosophy.

“I know it works because I’m proof of it,” he said. “I believe in myself and I believe in what I do.”