Alex Dobrowolski GSNB’72 and his daughter Holly


courtesy of Holly Dobrowolski

When Alex Dobrowolski GSNB’72 and his daughter Holly competed in their first race together at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey on a sweltering July day in 2002, they might as well have run off the end of the tarmac and up into the clear blue sky. After all, since appearing in that 5K race, the father-daughter team has traveled the globe to run marathons on all seven continents. A little more than a year ago, Alex, 78, and Holly, 51, competed in a marathon in Antarctica, making him the oldest man to run the race on that continent and making them the oldest father-daughter team to complete a marathon on every continent. But words like “old” don’t apply to Alex and Holly, who have appeared in 500 races together over the past 16 years in their shared zest to see the world. Their first marathon took place in the streets of Rome in 2004 and established a tradition: Holly, who’s been a perennially top-ranked runner in her age group, starts every race to the left of her dad, a distance runner of 36 years, and then waits patiently for him at the finish line (“She’s just too competitive!”). Alex and his wife, Joan, raised their daughters, Holly and Carol DC’86, GSE’07, in Highland Park, New Jersey, the couple’s home for 45 years. But wanderlust is a constant. “If a few years remain,” says Alex, “maybe Holly and I will give the North Pole a shot.”

RUTGERS MAGAZINE: Was it always your intention to run a marathon together on each continent?

ALEX DOBROWOLSKI: No, the goal evolved. Our first race together was in 2002. I had been running races for almost 20 years. I invited Holly to run with me in a race on the main runway of Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. She was in her mid-30s and in fairly good shape, but was not a runner. She completed the race, along with 700 others, at the tail end of her age group. She looked exhausted, and I just assumed that this would be her last race. A few minutes later, almost recovered, she asked me, “When’s the next race?” 

RM: So that was the beginning of it all?

AD: Yes. Since that auspicious day, we’ve run close to 500 races together, and she has been recognized in the State of New Jersey by USA Track and Field as being either the first-, second-, or third-best woman runner in her age group on a number of occasions during those 16 years.  

RM: Holly must have improved quickly?

AD: After a few races together, she had improved to the point that she was easily beating me. After running numerous 5Ks and a few 10Ks, I suggested a half marathon, then a marathon. She was hesitant but more than willing to take on the challenge. We ran our first marathon together in Rome. We had a tremendous experienceloved the city and traveling together, enjoyed solving problems as they came along, and realized that traveling and running abroad was just a lot of fun. Soon after finishing our first marathon, I asked, “How would you like to run a marathon on every continent?” 

As of last year, we have completed a marathon together on every continent as father and daughter. We begin every race standing side by side, with her on my left. She now waits for me at the finish line.

RM: There have to be other father-daughter running teams.

AD: Before running a marathon on Antarctica, I discovered that there were two other father-daughter combos who had run there, but we were by far the oldest to complete the marathon. She was 51 and I was 77, for a combined age of 128 years. None of the others even came close to exceeding a combined 100 years.  I was the oldest to have completed this marathon. Antarctica was a challenge. We got off our Chilean jet on a dirt runway in Antarctica in a blizzard and had to walk two miles to our camp. Several hours later, we were off and running.

RM: What are some other places where you have competed in a marathon?

AD: We’ve run marathons in Iceland, Ireland, Poland, Japan, South Africa, Australia, and Argentina. Japan and South Africa were my favorites. We spent four nights on a safari in South Africa after running the marathon in Cape Town. In Japan, we traveled on the bullet train, saw much of the main island of Honshu, and participated in the marathon, running through the streets of Tokyo. 

RM: Holly and you must be kind of known on the running circuit?

AD: The running community knows us as “Holly and Alex” and on the very rare occasions when we run alone all we hear is, “Where’s Holly?” or “Where’s your father?” I cannot recall another father-daughter combo lasting this period of years. I have been running competitively for more than 30 years, with close to 1,000 completed races. 

RM: Do any other destinations in particular beckon?

AD: We still would like to run half marathons in Mexico City, Paris, Moscow, Cairo, Rio de Janeiro, and London. If a few years remain, maybe Holly and I will give the North Pole a shot.