Inspirational stories from the USA Track & Field National Championship

I had just finished my first race of the weekend and was feeling pretty good about my performance. It wasn’t quite what I had hoped for when I first put down the outdoor national championship Master’s meet on the July race schedule, but after fighting injuries for a couple of months, my 10,000 meter race (the first of two for the weekend) went pretty well. One down, one to go.

As I was awaiting a bag of ice from the medical tent, I turned my attention to the upcoming race on the track. It was the women’s 5,000 meter race for ages 50 to 79 and men’s race for ages 85 and up. Yep, 85 years old and up. Racing. On the track. Hold the ice, Batman – this I gotta see!

Lining up with some pretty fit, fast women were two gentlemen who were 89 and 91 years old. And they looked great! The gun went off and apparently I missed the women’s race because I was captivated by these two “old” guys flying 12-and-a-half laps around the track. The 91-year-old finished in 36:13 and was crowned National Champ for the 90+ age group. And I don’t think he was really tired. I walked away from the medical tent without my ice bag.

The 2014 USA Track & Field National Championship meet is held annually for anyone who is 30 years or older. Anyone. No qualifying standards to meet, no team to join (other than the national USATF Association annual dues) and no physical to pass (although I would highly recommend one if you are just starting out). Pay the app fee, travel to wherever and off you go!

This year’s meet was held at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. The 2015 edition will be in Jacksonville, Florida, which should be fun in July. The four-day meet is a complete track and field experience – sprints, distance races, jumps, throws, race walking and even relays. Heck, I watched an 80-year-old woman pole vault 1.65 meters (about 5 feet, 3 inches). Think about that for a second. She’s 80! She was barely 55 when the pole vault was opened up for women to compete! And I cannot even begin to describe the 85-year-old man who ran the 400 meters in 1:18.8. That’s one minute, 18 seconds!

I meet a lot of people who have this pre-conceived notion of what it means to run and compete. I’m too old, I’m too slow, I’m too heavy, I’m too uncoordinated. I hear excuse after excuse about why someone doesn’t participate. At this event, I saw example after example of too old, too slow, too heavy, all out competing and doing their thing. And you know what? You can get out there and do your thing, too.

August 15 will mark my 36th anniversary as a runner. I field the “when are you going to stop” question a lot and the truth of the matter is, unless my body tells me otherwise, no time soon. If a 71-year-old woman can throw a shot 27 feet, 9 inches, then I think I can get myself around the track a few times, don’t you?

This is not to say that these folks, and there were over 1,200 athletes at this meet, don’t work out and strive for success. But none of the participants I witnessed were giving in. Slower than their former selves? I imagine mostly so. Trying with any less effort? No way. Every single one of them probably spent time preparing properly to compete. And I am sure every single one will prepare again and compete again.

You, too, can make the commitment to yourself to participate, compete if you are so minded, and enjoy. The avenue of athletics is not open to only the young, fast and strong. If that were the case, these 1,200 athletes would have been at the shuffleboard tournament a few states south of North Carolina, instead of checking their spikes, weighing their javelins and limbering up.

While I prepared for my second race of the weekend, the men’s 5,000 meters for ages 50-59, I couldn’t help notice four men who were playing with a baton as they prepared for a 4x100 and 4x400 meter relay to be held the last day of competition. Their ages? 91, 91, 96 and 97. I wonder who ran anchor? I didn’t finish my second race as well as hoped, but I finished with all I had left and I bet those guys did, too.

Former Lock Haven University stand-out runner Andrew Shearer is the Middletown Athletic Club secretary/treasurer.