For 25 years, Len Leshem worked in an auto manufacturing plant near Wilmington, Delaware and spent most of his free time smoking and drinking beer. As reported in this CapeGazette.com article, his physical state deteriorated to a point where he couldn’t do two pushups – a realization that struck him as “ridiculous,” he said.
Leshem decided to do something about it during a drive back to Wilmington from a vacation in Lewes. It was a decision that changed his life.
At age 50, he ran his first 5K. A few years later, he competed in his first Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. He went on to compete in three more Kona Ironmans, the Boston Marathon, the New York City Marathon, Washington, D.C.’s Marine Corps Marathon and Virginia Beach’s Shamrock Marathon.
Leshem is now 78 and lives in Lewes. He still runs half marathons (13.1 miles) and is a fixture at his local YMCA.
His athletic accomplishments, however, are just part of his story.
Once he got into fitness, Leshem began working with the Special Olympics, an organization that provides sports training and competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. At Leshem’s first practice, an athlete ran up and jumped into his arms, providing a memorable introduction to the Special Olympics.
Since then, Leshem has coached in all kinds of sports, from long-distance running to power lifting. The Special Olympics inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 2005.
When he isn’t coaching, Leshem runs a business – Hurricane House Watch – that takes care of homes for part-time residents who are away during the winter. He also volunteers for Autism Delaware.
Would Len Leshem have discovered his passion for working with young, special-needs athletes if he hadn’t decided to get fit at age 50? Maybe. Maybe not. But one thing’s for sure.
A lot of kids are glad that he did.