MacDonald races through life

Published 5:11 pm Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The year was 1957.

That year, a young Ernie MacDonald placed 29th at the Boston Marathon — then a men-only event.

Today, MacDonald, a retired Methodist minister and coach, may be seen wheeling around town on his three-wheeled bike, making his daily two-hour circuit from home to Helena Fitness and by the bank, Publix and Ace Hardware.

For years, he routinely biked 20 miles before work.

The grandfather of 15 and great-grandfather of five said, “I have had a good run for over 50 years and I intend to keep moving.”

Next month, he will head up to the Michigan Senior Olympics to compete in the 100-meter run. His training regime consists of daily weight lifting and 30 minutes at the gym with a personal trainer, plus his daily biking and walking circuit.

MacDonald ran his first race at age 12 and was a member of the track and field team at Alma College.

The Boston Indoor Track National Championship was an annual event for him until 2008. The medals he earned lured him into keeping on with it, he said. Most of his 80-plus medals has been given away, but a few, such as one from the Golden Age Games, still hang on the medal tree mural he painted in his garage.

Heart issues 30 years ago resulted in MacDonald retiring from his United Methodist Church ministry. Those issues are now kept under control with medication.

Six years ago, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and began to use a cane and stroller walker for balance. At age 80, he had two strokes.

Tuiren Bratina, his wife of 26 years, said, “Two months after having the strokes, Ernie flunked out of hospice.”

“Hospice helped me learn to lower my anxiety level,” MacDonald said. “The doctors told me ‘you’re going to be ok,’ and dismissed me.”

The mantle in their home is lined with photos and framed yellowed clippings alongside the many tennis trophies that Bratina, an avid tennis player, has more recently contributed.

Bratina, a retired Air Force Lt. Colonel, works as a math educator and mentor.

For their 26th wedding anniversary, MacDonald painted a small mural in their bedroom and is now in the process of adding to the 12-foot scene that stretches across the garage’s back wall.

Here sailboats race across the Boston Harbor and a lighthouse represents another of his running habitats. There is the tropical beach and the waterfalls he and Bratina have enjoyed visiting.

“Ernie is a man who truly loves life,” Bratina said.

Laura Brookhart can be reached at