The race was about to begin and 29-year-old Harold Morioka was having second thoughts. He wondered what had compelled him to enter a track meet against university athletes up to 10 years his junior when he had never run a competitive 100-metre race before in his life. The other competitors all had the benefit of coaches and training, yet, here he was - a high school teacher hoping not to embarrass himself.
“I started running and right away I was wondering where everybody was,” says Harold. “Then I realized I was leading. My wife told me later she couldn’t look when the race started and when she finally glanced up, she could not find me because she was searching for me at the back of the pack. Towards the finish line, I seized up a little bit and wound up getting beat by a narrow margin. Still, I had run the 100 metres in 11.0 seconds, a very respectable time.”
Harold started training and, by the next year, he was the B.C. champion in both the 100 and 200 metres at 30 years of age. He competed for the next five years before retiring from track, until returning at the Masters level when he turned 40. Along the way, he changed specialties.
“When I was 33, my coach needed a runner to complete the field of a 4x400-metre relay and asked me. I had always liked running relays as it makes you part of a team so I agreed,” he says. “I ran and did so well, I started competing in it. I was second in the province at 400 metres for three straight years.”
In 1989, Harold was competing as a 46 year old when he set his first of 13 world records. He was running the 100 metres at the Canadian Masters championships in Toronto and he finished in a time of 11.11 seconds, a world record for men between the ages of 45-49. Later that summer, he ran the 400 metres in Eugene, Oregon in a time of 50.60 seconds to set a second world record for runners in his age group. What made this feat even more incredible is that Harold set this record four years after going through a serious back operation that kept him from running for 18 months.
That year at the Sports B.C. Awards dinner, Harold was recognized as the Masters athlete of the year.
“At the end of the evening, they were giving out the final award for athlete of the year and I was sitting there wondering who they were going to give it to. When the announcer called my name, I was in shock,” he recalls. “How could they choose me? I was just a Masters athlete. But I guess they decided to give it to someone different. Never before and never since has anyone near that age won the award.”
From there, the records kept falling. In Japan, at the age of 50, Harold missed the world record in the 800 metres by less than a second the first time he had ever competed at that distance. During one weekend, he set three U.S. records at an indoor meet. Then at 52, he stopped running in order to have both knees operated on. When he returned to competition at 56, he set a world indoor record in the 400 metres in his first race after recovering from surgery.
At 60, Harold was still setting world records, but his body was breaking down. He suffered from plantar fasciitis in both feet and after recovering from that he had one more operation on each knee to clean them up. All that was nothing compared to the shock he received last summer when his doctor told Harold he had heart disease. “I couldn’t believe it,” he says. “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I’m in great shape. He told me heart disease is also genetic and that is what got me. I had open-heart surgery two days later.”
So, what does the future hold for this amazing athlete?
“I have a three-year plan,” says Harold. “In 2013, I will be 70, and the world championships will be in Brazil. My plan is to try to get into good enough shape to be the world champion in the 400 metres. My goal is to get under 60 seconds and win the gold medal. I may not come close, but I am going to try. I want seniors to know you can suffer setbacks and have major surgeries but you can still keep going.”
OCTOBER 2010 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE VANCOUVER & LOWER MAINLAND
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