“Today, more seniors than ever are taking up the sport of Athletics – Track & Field, Running (on roads or trails) and Race Walking.” –Maurice Wilson
Maurice Wilson is BC Athletics Technical Manager, Road & XC Running, who adds, “As more people remain active into their senior years, and reap the health benefits of doing so, they are demonstrating that faster, higher and stronger applies not only to Olympians.”
Seniors are certainly motivated to stay active. Here are some who’ve had a head start… without jumping the gun.
1. Get Motivated
“There are three things to motivation,” says 74-year-old John Young, co-founder of the Forever Young 8k Walk/Jog/Run event in Richmond, BC: one is a partner who’s waiting for me; two is a goal of any kind to keep you going; and the third thing is to have a plan… as simple as three times a week to get out… you don’t have to be a super athlete.”
Fellow founders, Gwen McFarlan, along with John’s wife, Joan Young, taught elementary school in Richmond and were neighbours.
“John would join us after work,” says Joan. “After retirement, it just mushroomed.”
The Richmond Olympic Oval took over the Forever Young 55+ event in 2017 with John as Race Director, Joan as his right and left arm, and Gwen, the literal legs.
“I was on my feet five hours yesterday at registration,” says Gwen, 83. Along Richmond’s flat-gravel dyke trail, it’s nearly race time. Gwen finds the energy to win her category.
The not-for-profit society raises funds for the Dream On, Seniors Wish Foundation.
The glue is the Forever Young Walk/Run Club that meets Monday and Wednesday mornings (2/3 walkers and 1/3 joggers) to exercise and socialize. It’s an e-mail-and-newsletter-linked community.
“Like one big family,” says Gwen, a 2014 marathon-world-record holder.
“A lot of close friendships have developed,” says John, “and a lot of medical issues. Gwen’s had breast cancer; Joan’s got arthritis; I’ve had a triple bypass.”
2. No Expectations
Avril Douglas, 72, has three world records and 12 Canadian records in short distance running for Masters athletes. She’s come a long way from her start at Mission Soapbox Derby Days.
“We had no money. I’d win five-10-or-15-cent prizes at kids’ races to buy cotton candy and go on rides,” says Avril of growing up in Hatzic, near Mission.
“All these years went by… Rick Whiting [Richmond marathon-legend] used to run by my house. I did the Richmond Flatland Marathon in 1986, joined Kajaks Track and Field Club and told them, ‘I really like sprinting.’ I didn’t know what to expect of myself,” says Avril.
At 50, she was an RN finishing her Bachelor of Science degree, a single-parent caring for two teenagers, and a daughter caring for her own mother with Alzheimer’s.
“Being physically active develops confidence and optimism to cope and deal with things,” says Avril.
As Kajaks’ Track Rascals (entry level for 6-to-8-year-olds) lead coach, Avril has Run-Jump-Throw-Wheel Instructor Training and is becoming a Level Two Club Coach, part of the National Coach Certification Program established by the Coaching Association of Canada.
“I started off coaching my granddaughters,” says Avril, who is now passing her positive message to youth.
3. Stay Active
Harold Morioka, 74, is a track-and-field devotee who wears three caps: athlete, coach and record keeper.
Harold started The Greyhounds Track and Field Club for Master (35+) and Senior (55+) competitors in 1999 with a dozen members (now at nearly 100). Members receive Harold’s Messages on the Club News page.
“BC Athletics never had official [Masters] records,” says Harold. “I started compiling any results I could find, and phoning people. I’ve looked after the records ever since.”
“I still get the urge to compete,” says Harold, who retired from track at 62 after open heart surgery. “Next year, I’m in a new age group, so if my knees are okay, I’ll make a comeback. I said that at age 70, but I was not successful.” Harold earned a world-championship bronze medal instead of gold.
“I enjoy the 400 metres the most, but I’m not sure if I could go that far… maybe 200 metres.”
Six knee surgeries make this 13-time-world-record holder a bit tentative.
Harold will soon be 75 and is looking ahead to the World Masters Outdoor Championships in Spain in September 2018.
“Stay active,” says Harold. “It doesn’t matter what you do.”
4. Never Too Late
Christa Bortignon, 80, is a hep lady. The seven-event heptathlon of track and field consists of hurdles, high jump, shot put, long jump, javelin throw, a 200-metre dash and an 800-metre run.
Christa also competes in the pentathlon. What makes this great-grandmother tick?
“I’ve got really bad arthritis in both wrists,” says Christa, a former competitive tennis player who converted to track and field at 72. She took twice-weekly ‘Forever Fit’ classes at Hollyburn Country Club in West Vancouver where she heard about Olga Kotelko, a nonagenarian track-and-field star. Christa called her.
“Meet me at the track in 20 minutes.” Christa smiles, remembering Olga’s directive.
Olga passed away in 2014 at 95, after amassing 37 world masters’ track and field records.
Christa says that after jogging a lap or two with her, “Olga told me, ‘You’ll do.’” The National Track and Field Championships were two weeks away.
“Carol LaFayette-Boyd, an outstanding athlete, is breaking my records… five years behind me… I don’t mind,” says Christa. That makes record-counting tricky.
Since turning 80, Christa’s provincial, national and world records keep stacking up. She was World Female Masters Athlete of the Year in 2013 and Canadian Masters Athlete of the Year in 2014.
“Right now, I have 14 world records. In the new age group, I have four. It’s never too late: you can be an athlete, an official, a helper or a spectator. The best thing is the friends.”
How fast, how far, how high can we go? These seniors seem to be saying they are still viable. Why not go for it?