BOSTON -- Johnny "The Elder" Kelley is like an old-time preacher, spreading his word wherever he goes, to whomever he meets, at every chance he gets.
Only Kelley's message is not spiritual. It's physical.
Kelley, at 82, is a walking, talking advertisement for the body beautiful. This spring he ran -- and finished -- the Boston Marathon, one of dozens he has completed over recent decades.
Kelley's mission to promote fitness, however, is not a once-a-spring rite. At every opportunity he spreads the word about the virtues of healthy living.
"The most important thing is to keep in shape physically, and not necessarily with running in marathon races," Kelley said recently. "Running marathons is okay if you want to, but I advocate soccer, or walking, swimming, baseball or basketball -- anything at all to keep in shape."
Every April, Kelley's name is splashed across headlines when he announces plans to run in yet another Boston Marathon.
Runners and spectators alike regard Kelley with awe. He has run in 59 of the annual 26.2-mile races, a record for the 94-year-old marathon.
When Kelley crossed the finish line May 16, with a respectable time of 5 hours 5 minutes, a hush fell across the crowd.
Then the cheers began, drowning out Kelley's words to his wife, Laura, 79, who had staked out a place on the sidelines to greet her husband. Everybody knows Johnny.
"When I finished the Boston Marathon this year I had two nurses look me over and I was in better shape than everybody else. My pulse, my blood pressure, everything, was absolutely perfect," he said. "It's hard to believe but it's true."
Kelley ran his first marathon in 1928 and won the race in 1935, at age 27. He won again 10 years later. He has finished it 56 times. He came in second seven times.
Kelley's physician, Kenneth Cooper, who is credited with coining the word "aerobics" and runs the Aerobics Center in Dallas, says his patient is in remarkable physical condition.
"Physiologically he's about 30 years younger," Cooper said. "He performs on the treadmill like a man who would be in a good category of fitness at 50 years of age."
Cooper added, "His heart is as solid as a rock."
The energetic Cape Cod resident was born Sept. 6, 1907, in Waltham, a Boston suburb.
"When I was a young boy between the ages of 11 and 15, I used to be a caddie. I used to walk, walk, walk, carrying those heavy golf bags. I was just a young boy."
In his teens, Kelley walked a mile to school and back, another mile to track practice, and another mile to his job at a gas station.
In 1936, Kelley was a part of the U.S. track team at the Olympic Games in Berlin. In the marathon competition, Kelley finished 18th. In 1948, Kelley competed in the Olympics in London, placing 21st in the marathon.
Kelley is an artist by trade, and the couple has a gallery in their home devoted to his oil paintings.
Kelley also takes time out a few times a year to speak to young people about fitness. The John Hancock Running and Fitness Clinics, an educational program of John Hancock Financial Services, sponsors lectures by Kelley and Bill Rodgers, a four-time Boston Marathon winner.
Kelley said he tells the students to get away from television.
"I say to try and do something, if possible, for exercise every day of your life. The easiest thing is walking, which we don't do very much, we watch TV," he said. "Try swimming or walking in moderation. Something. Every day. It's not necessarily taking part in sports like football or hockey. That's for the professional teams. But try to do something in your own way, that will keep you in condition. . . .
"I'm trying very hard to stay alive and the way I can keep going is to keep up my activity. My doctor down in Dallas says, 'You don't wear out, you rest out.' "
Cooper met his star patient while running the Boston Marathon in 1963.
"He's amazing, that's all I can say. There will never be another Johnny Kelley," Cooper said.