Sherry Lizotte spends most days with her thoughts in the trees, but for the past 34 years, the utility arborist for Georgia Power Company has spent her Fourth of July with her feet on the ground at the Peachtree Road Race.
She completed her 34th-consecutive race Thursday, July 4, in Atlanta, alongside 60,000-plus other runners and thousands more looking on, lining the sidewalks of Peachtree Street for the race’s 50th year.
“To me, it's not really about how fast I can run it,” said Lizotte, who lives and works in Gainesville. “I'm older, so I have knee issues when I run, so that's why I don't run. I walk fast these days. I walk it quickly and just enjoy it as an event.”
The 59-year-old finished the 2019 event in 2 hours, 15 minutes and 58 seconds. She’s admittedly not a runner, although she actually ran the Peachtree for years when she was younger. Her fastest time was around 47 minutes.
“I have always enjoyed the outdoors and done a lot of outdoor activities and sports, but I 've never been a runner,” Lizotte said, laughing.
Her tradition started humbly enough back in 1986 — she ran her first race because some friends at work were doing it. Once they stopped, she continued the tradition for herself.
“I just really enjoyed it and I've done it ever since,” Lizotte said.
She used to train a little — just enough to be able to complete the race — but now, she only does her normal daily walking in order to get ready for the event. She mainly power-walks the race now and enjoys taking in the sights.
“As I got older, it became more of a run, jog, run, jog, run, jog,” Lizotte said. “My goal in the early years was to just never stop — just keep either running or jogging. And now, I really jog a little and walk a lot.”
Back when she would run, her now-husband, Roger, would cheer her on from the corner of 14th and Peachtree Streets. She’d look for him, he’d look for her and then they’d meet up at the end of the race when it was all over.
“I did that for two years until I thought I'd just run with her,” Roger Lizotte said. “She's my best friend, so I just wanted to do that with her.”
Together, they’ve completed the race 32 consecutive years.
“I hate to run, but I did it just because of the event itself,” Roger Lizotte said. “It just seemed like a fun thing to do with Sherry, so I decided to do it.”
And that’s why they both continue to do it. For them, it’s all about the grandeur and the spectacle of the race. They’re not concerned with their time or anything like that — Roger finished this year’s race in 2 hours, 16 minutes and 3 seconds.
It’s about the oversized American flag hanging over Peachtree Street. It’s about the booming, patriotic flyover. It’s about the coveted T-shirt.
“I grew up in Brookhaven and once a year you get to walk down the middle of Peachtree Street,” Sherry Lizotte said. “How many chances do you get to do that? There’s people playing music on the side of the road and people cheering the entire way and it's just such a wonderful event.”
She said it’s a “landmark event for Atlanta” and she has the T-shirt from each year to prove she has been a part of it.
They’re all stowed away neatly in her closet as a memory from each year. She said she can’t pick a favorite shirt, but has her favorite colors. She doesn’t like the black or orange shirts she’s gotten. She likes the blue and red ones.
“It's such a coveted shirt,” Sherry Lizotte said. “I wouldn't do it if you didn't get the shirt, because that's the Peachtree. Everyone knows what the Peachtree shirt is. It's symbolic of the race.”
In order to get that shirt, though, Sherry Lizotte and her husband have to wake up around 4 a.m., make their way to the North Springs MARTA station in Sandy Springs and then get to the starting line near Lenox Square Mall.
Roger Lizotte never pictured himself being willing to do all of that, but after doing it with his wife the first year, he hasn’t looked back.
“The first year I did it, I said, ‘I don’t know if I'm going to do it next year,’” Roger Lizotte said. “But of course, I did it the next year and did it the next year and did it the next year, so it just progressed.”
Sherry Lizotte said she “absolutely” loves the Peachtree Road Race and will do it as long as she’s able. Even when she’s not able to take part, she plans on going as a spectator and is looking forward to having a new vantage point for what has become one of her favorite days of the year.
For now, though, she’ll continue to keep her feet on the ground in Atlanta, walking down Peachtree Street, for Independence Day, collecting her T-shirt with her husband.
“I think the start of the Peachtree Road Race is probably my favorite,” Sherry Lizotte said. “Because of all the excitement, the big flag is hanging over Peachtree Street and the jets fly over and the Star Spangled Banner and it's just such a wonderful celebration of the Fourth of July.”