My quest to participate in the Olympics originated in 2007 while watching the Turin, Italy Winter Olympics. I felt it would be so cool to just be a part of such a gathering of athletes. I first searched to find what the qualifications were to be a bob-sled pusher; I felt that this was something that a 61 year old could do. My search informed me that; yes older people did attend the tryouts but were never picked because there was a wealth of young past NFL players or soccer players or college athletes taking the winter off available for the limited position.
As the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics approached my desire was reborn, but with a little thought I concluded that the Summer Olympics were out of reach for an aging want-a-be. I then found the Senior Olympics which started in 1987 with 2,500 participants and had grown to over 10,000 participants. They are held every two years in a major US city with qualifications held in individual states in the off years. I called the state of Alabama Senior Olympics office in Montgomery and found that; yes they would be holding qualifications in Selma in June 2oo8 for the 2009 games in San Francisco. The problem was I was scheduled to be in Spain for the month of June, I wouldn’t be able to qualify. I vowed to get into shape anyway, I had found a way to participate in the Olympics and I had time, after all I’m retired.
Upon returning from a month in Spain I joined a local gym that offered all the equipment that I would need and also offered group fitness classes, most from a company by the name of Les Mills. I settled on a one hour a day seven day a week program: two days at the track running, two days at Body Pump, two days at Spinning and one day at Yoga.
By June 2010 I was in shape and Nita and I headed to Selma. I learned that there aren’t that many 65 year old’s in Alabama, I was running in the 65 t0 69 age group, that wanted to run 100 meters as fast as they can. There were no prelims, just the finals; five old farts standing at the start line and one guy down in starting blocks with running flats. I never thought of that, so I grabbed a set of blocks and
gave them a try and almost landed on my nose, thus I stood up like the rest of the guys.
“On your marks.” We all stepped to the line and assumed the ready position. “Get Set.” Weight on front leg, slight lean. “Bang.” Yes, they used a starters pistol. I got a fair start, don’t see the guy coming out of the blocks, at 50 meters it’s me and the guy to my right neck and neck. I’m feeling good, I’m feeling strong. He’s not there anymore, I’m going to win. I did win. I’m going to represent the state of Alabama in the Senior Olympics. I’m going to the Olympics.
Nita called the kids, “Your dad won, he’s going to the Olympics.”
As it turned out I won the 200 meter as well. Several days after the thrill burnt off a bit I went to the Senior Olympics website to find out what the winning times were in the the 2009 San Francisco 65 – 69 100 meter and 200 meter races.
100 meter: 13.29 seconds won, seventh was 14.44 seconds. I qualified with 16.2 seconds.
200 meter: 27.59 seconds won, seventh was 30.80. I qualified with 33.6 seconds.
These guys are using starting blocks, these guys are really training, these guys are really fast. I ordered a set of starting blocks and a pair of racing flats with cleats. I started running five 100 meter dashes in 30 minutes twice a week to build my stamina. I could feel my legs changing, as I asked more from them the rebelled with cramps, pulls and ruptures, but I learned how to mend and build strength and speed. I worked through the winter and by spring 2011 I was running ten to twelve 100 meter dashes in a hour with no complaints from my legs. I had only lost ten pounds but my legs were like Michelangelo’s Davids legs. I had even mastered the starting blocks and I was running in the 14.2 to 14.5 range. By the first of June I was ready to go to Houston on June 20 to participate in the Olympics.
Tuesday June 7, I was on the Appalachian Trail and I ruptured a tendon in my knee as I chronicled in an earlier post. I did no running until Saturday June 11, and then only at 50% of full speed, Tuesday June 14 I was up to 75% – to 80% speed and had run eight 100 meter dashes in 45 minutes. “I’ll do a 200 meter to work on my stamina.” Go, good through the first turn building speed, in lane three. The turns put more pressure and strain on your left inside leg, into turn two -POP- my left leg collapsed and I went down. I’d torn a muscle in my left calf muscle.
The medical websites say for a minor tear allow two to three weeks to heal, for a major tear two to three months. I’ve got one week, my first heat in the 100 meter prelims is at 10:55 on Tuesday June 21.
Over the next week a lot went through my mind, I was depressed, all this work and a last minute injury because I’d pushed my body to hard. I’d always pushed my limits that’s how I’d succeed in sports, my career, even in my yard work, but now this could leave me in the stands watching.
Saturday I had an epiphany; my goal was to participate in the Olympics, I never visualized myself winning either race so my goal was still possible. I would heal as best as I could and I will participate.
Tuesday morning after applying tubes of ointment, stretching, and warming up it still felt like I had a golf ball inside my left calf but it was time to run. I was in heat five lane six, there were 38 runners in the 65 to 69 bracket
I came out of the starting blocks at the crack of the gun still on two feet, my number one fan screamed “Go Kobie Joe”; at the 50 meter mark I realized, “I’m going to finish this race.” I crossed the finish line in forth with a feeling of achievement, it had taken me more then a second longer then my qualifying time of over a year ago, before all my training, but I finished, I participated. I had achieved my goal.
Reflecting back on the past year I realized that what I had done was not that different then my project to refurbish Trent’s 1969 Corvette. I was putting life back into an old body. I had trained my body like a Corvette to get off the starting line fast, to run on a flat surface, to maneuver only slight turns and to run short distances fast. After a year of rebuilding I had gotten good at running like a Corvette, and then I took my body off road. I went to the Appalachian Trail and asked my Corvette body to climb mountains, to maneuver on rough terrain, and to run for five hours at a time. Then I took my beat up body racing; it just didn’t work.
My take-a-way is that the Senior Games is that it’s a gathering of people who have a lust for life, they are elder folks who have not retired to the couch. I had breakfast with Fred from Michigan this morning, a WWII vet who will take home a metal in the 100 meter, 200, meter, and 400 meter races. He’s in the 95 to 99 age bracket, he’s the only runner in the 200 and 400 and one of three in the 100. His extended family is all here to help him celebrate life.
I intend to keep the Senior Games as a part of my life.