While flipping through a magazine last year, Lydia Husar found a photo of an 85-year-old distance runner that spoke volumes to her.
The photo was of celebrated senior runner Ed Benham seated on a hill. The profile showed a resolute Mr. Benham, his jaw jutting, his pants rolled up just enough to showcase his worn sneakers.
"I liked his determination and his sneakers," said the 70-year-old Mrs. Husar, a member of the O'Malley Senior Center in Odenton. "I thought, 'A man this age in sneakers and running, this is great. This would be an interesting picture to paint.' "
The Crownsville artist painted him and entered the painting in this year's "Maryland, You Are Beautiful" senior arts competition. The painting won second place in the overall competition and first in the oil painting category. She received her awards at a ceremony two weeks ago at the Arnold Senior Center.
Winning the art awards was a big surprise to this lively, talkative woman. But an even greater surprise was yet to come, when O'Malley director Ann Marie Remillard arranged a meeting between the artist and her subject.
Mrs. Husar had unknowingly painted a man who lives a few miles from her house. Mr. Benham and his wife, Annie, divide their time between Glen Burnie and Ocean City.
The two met on Monday at the O'Malley Senior Center and quickly became admirers of each other.
"I'm thrilled with it," said Mr. Benham, a short, thin man with gray hair, long sideburns and blue eyes. "She did such a wonderful job."
"He's such an accomplished man," said Mrs. Husar.
Mrs. Husar discovered that her subject was not just a runner but an ex-jockey. He began running at 72, after he had retired from racing.
Always an athletic man, Mr. Benham was looking for something to occupy his time. His son, Bev, suggested running. And Mr. Benham became hooked. He entered his first race a few months after he took up the sport, the 10-mile Cherry Blossom race in Washington. He set a record for his age group and hasn't looked back since, winning practically every race he has entered.
The Nike and Brooks sports equipment companies have sponsored him in races all over the world, including the Boston Marathon, the old D.C. Marathon and events in Finland, Japan and Australia. His best marathon time is 3 hours, 32 minutes.
"I don't like to brag, but I've been called the greatest runner in the world," Mr. Benham said. "Nobody can beat me in my category."
He was quite successful as a jockey, too, winning races at tracks all over the country during the 1920s and 1930s. Mr. Benham began riding in 1923, at the age of 15, and retired 15 years later.
After retiring, he became an outrider, leading the racehorses to the starting gate. 'Then he worked in the jockeys' room, taking care of the saddles of such famous jockeys as former Kentucky Derby winner Chris McCarron.
Mr. Benham's personal story is full of grit and determination, which Mrs. Husar conveys in her painting.
"It has a life to it," said Kathy Kniess, a "Maryland, You Are Beautiful" judge. "We, as judges, didn't know the whole story. His character definitely filters through. As an artist, you try to make others feel as you felt at the outset. And this painting is so appropriate to the theme of the show, which is a celebration of seniors."
Mrs. Husar is quite a story herself. She began painting three years ago after taking an art course at the O'Malley Senior Center.
"I never painted because I never had the time," said Mrs. Husar, who spent most of her time raising her three children.
Now she has plenty of time.
"I enjoy it so much," she said. "An entire afternoon goes by so quickly when I'm painting."
She gives most of her paintings away to family members. But this one will probably go to Mr. Benham.
"I would really like to have this painting," Mr. Benham said. "She made me look better than I really am."