For recreational runners, completing a marathon is often a bucket list item. Oak Harbor’s Willy Mendoza has checked off that box — 99 times.
Mendoza will run his 100th 26.2-mile race at the Whidbey Island Marathon Sunday, April 14.
After growing up in the Philippines, Mendoza, 67, joined the Navy and moved to the United States at 19. In 1978, the Navy brought him to Oak Harbor, where he has lived except for a three-year tour aboard ship during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He retired from active duty in 1996 and has continued to work on base as a civilian.
Mendoza began running nearly 30 years ago but did not compete in his first marathon until 2002, after he turned 50.
He decided in 1981 to get into better shape after having “sore muscles for days” after competing in a squadron softball game; he also had a “desire to do well” in his semi-annual physical training tests.
When the building in which Mendoza works installed showers in 1987, he began running to and from work.
Since competing in his first marathon — Whidbey’s Wings of Gold Marathon in 2002 — Mendoza has run the distance in two countries and 10 states. Included are four trips to Massachusetts to take part in the United States’ most prestigious event, the Boston Marathon.
He was there during the infamous bombing in 2013, missing the explosion by 15 minutes. Mendoza also competed in Boston a year earlier when brutal heat — it reached the high 80s — took its toll.
“I almost had heat stroke,” he said.
In addition to running 99 marathons, he has tackled the Walt Disney Dopey Challenge the past five years. The event covers 48.6 miles in four days (5K Thursday, 10K Friday, half marathon Saturday and marathon Sunday).
About 10 years ago he started averaging about a marathon a month.
Mendoza will run the Whidbey Island Marathon this weekend despite health issues.
“(I have) been having Achilles and knee problems and lately a pulled hamstring,” he said. “I am committed…I will not be as fast but will do my best to finish.”
Mendoza is the patriarch of the family and the oldest of his siblings, and he petitioned to bring them to the United States.
He also inspired many of them to take up running, according to daughter Georgette Mendoza Duggal. Among them is daughter Mary Grace Mendoza Vu, who ran the Portland half marathon.
Some of the relatives, nieces April Mendoza and Ivy Mendoza Lim and Ivy’s husband Jimmy Lin, have completed marathons.
When Georgette went into labor with son Antony in 2010, her husband Vipin hustled Willy to the start of the Seattle Marathon then returned to Georgette’s side. Willy then completed the race in time to help greet Antony into the world.
A year later, Antony was at the finish line waiting for Willy, according to Georgette.
Now many will be waiting for Willy when he completes his 100th marathon this weekend.
• The 17th annual Whidbey Island Marathon and its four companion events are Sunday, April 14.
The marathon begins at 7 a.m. at Pass Lake and finishes on Bayshore Drive.
All other races begin and end at Bayshore.
The half marathon is slated to start at 8:30 a.m., the 10K and 5K at 9 a.m. and the 1K Kids Run at 10 a.m.
The finish-line celebration begins at 10 a.m.