Decatur meet featured in debut GeezerJock

GeezerJock promised. GeezerJock delivered. The new masters sports magazine, which debuts in print form this month, has already made a big splash via its online counterpart. One of its first articles focuses on the USATF Masters Nationals this past summer in Decatur, Illinois. Sean Callahan does a great job in depicting the various kinds of athletes who show for nationals. He even mentions me, God forbid. Anyhoo, here’s the milestone first masters track article in the free-subscription magazine:

Going for the Goal
The USA Masters Outdoor Track & Field Championships delivered world records, personal bests and true camaraderie
by Sean Callahan
Although situated near the middle of the country, Decatur, Ill., was not an easy place to get to for many competitors at this year’s USA Masters Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Many competitors said they took three planes to arrive in the central Illinois town for the biggest Masters track meet of the year, which was held Aug. 5-8.
Despite Decatur’s remoteness, the event still attracted almost 1,100 participants, ranging in age from 30 to 90 at the championships, and there were as many different goals as there were athletes.
Sprinter and jumper Audry Lary, 70, and distance runner Kathy Martin, 53, were gunning for age-group records.
Sprinter and former NFL player Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, 52, looked to outrun former U.S. Olympic team member Bill Collins, 53.
Willis Garland, 51, wanted to test himself in his first competition in a sport he had just taken up, the discus.
Sprinter Ken Stone, 50, longed to beat someone — anyone — in his heat in the 100 meters.
And sprinter Doug Smith, 65, wanted to win a friendly wager with one of his training partners, fellow sprinter Colleen Barney, 37, that he would better her time in the 100 meters.
But after falling severely ill with food poisoning on Thursday evening, Smith, who lives in Laguna Hills, Calif., had a new goal: leaving the Decatur Memorial Hospital. After several rounds of intravenous fluids, Smith finally left the emergency room near dawn on Friday morning.
Later that day, exhausted and still battling dehydration, Smith qualified for the 100-meter finals in the men’s 65-69 age group. On Saturday, after being able to keep down only a few crackers, some applesauce and a banana, a weakened Smith prepped for the finals.
He still believed he had a chance to take the gold medal. He also remained confident that he could run fast enough to make Barney pay up on the bet. If he won, she would have to announce publicly that Smith was the faster runner. If she won, he would owe her dinner.
Looking ghostly pale and a little bleary behind his wire frame glasses, Smith took the early lead in the 100-meter finals but uncharacteristically faded down the stretch to finish third. “I just had nothing. . Normally at 50 meters I can explode and leave them behind,” he moaned.
After the race, he walked off the track, fell to his knees and buried his head in the infield grass until he had enough energy to get up. He wasn’t confident his time of 13.12 would hold up when Barney ran the 100 meters later that day. “She’ll probably win the bet,” he muttered.
Barney, who lives in Newport Beach, Calif., had her own hardships to overcome, even if they were in the past. When she was a freshman sprinter at Arizona State University in the mid-1980s, she broke a vertebra during a freak weightlifting accident. The back pain didn’t recede for a decade, and she went more than 15 years without running competitively.
She became an attorney and raised a family. When her daughter, now 9, got interested in running, Barney found herself drawn again to the sport. Despite the layoff, her speed had not left.
In Decatur, the lean but powerful Barney won the gold medal in the women’s 35-39 100 meters with her brown hair flowing behind her. Her time of 13.36 was slower than Smith’s, but when his 1.0 mph tailwind and her 3.0 mph headwind were factored in, the winner was unclear.
“Call it a draw,” Smith said.
“I will admit that Doug is fast for an old guy,” she cracked.
By any measure, except for elite Masters sprinting, Stone is also pretty fast for an old guy. He runs the 100 in about 13 seconds. In the 50-54 age group, though, that’s almost two seconds behind the fastest runners. But in his 100 heat, the tall and angular Stone did manage not to cross the finish line last. “I ran a 13.31 in the 100 meters, and I beat one guy in the heat, so I achieved my goal,” he said.
Later in the meet, Stone, who as the Webmaster of is one of the sport’s biggest boosters, had a genuine thrill when he was asked to run on a 4 x 100-meter relay team with James Chinn, 45; Kettrell Berry, 41; and Rory McDermed, 45. “It’s an all-star relay,” Stone said. “Except for me. I think they’re very desperate.”
The race, however, was a letdown. After taking the baton for his leg of the relay, Stone immediately strained a groin muscle. He limped around the track until passing the baton, and the team took fifth place.
“I brought home a ribbon,” said a disappointed Stone, comforting himself.
Like Stone, Garland was also hampered at the Masters championships by a strained muscle, his quadriceps. The hometown favorite – Garland lives in Decatur – suffered the injury when he was practicing the discus, an event he started just three months previously.
Garland heard about Masters track and field through a Masters weightlifting friend, Ron Summers, 51, who lives in nearby Jacksonville, Ill. Garland, who sports a tattoo on his shoulder trumpeting himself as the 2002 Masters weightlifting world champion, considered taking up the shot put. “But then I’d have to go up against Ron,” Garland said.
Instead, he took up the discus. Despite his inexperience and his injury, Garland medaled in the 50-54 age group, taking a bronze with a throw of 39.16 meters. “I was disappointed I didn’t do my best, but I came here and competed,” Garland said. “That’s the important part.”
Garland’s friend, Summers, took the gold in the 50-54 shot put with a throw of 16.56 meters. Summers wasn’t the only thrower to win gold after a night’s sleep under his roof. Craig Shumaker, 55, from Glenmoore, Pa., also took the gold in the 55-59 shot put with a throw of 14.98 meters after staying the night in a spare bedroom at Summers’ house.
Even among those going head-to-head, the atmosphere tends to be cordial at the Masters track and field championships. The night before they squared off in the men’s 50-54 100, Johnson, who lives in Flowery Branch, Ga., and Collins, who lives in Houston, had dinner together at a Decatur restaurant. “We used to try to intimidate the other competitors all the time,” Collins said with a laugh. “Now we only do that in the starting blocks. After that, we eat together.”
As he was lacing up his track shoes before the 100 finals Saturday, Johnson – who didn’t wear trademark white shoes but fluorescent orange and yellow Nikes – was considered by many to be the favorite. But Collins, demonstrating the depth of talent in Masters track today, nipped him to the finish line, running an 11.48 to Johnson’s 11.67.
After the race, Johnson graciously congratulated Collins. Later, Johnson posed for pictures with his fellow sprinters. With gray hair mixed into his moustache, Johnson appears much more reserved than the showboat who was famous for a wobbly-kneed, Charleston-like touchdown celebration dance in the mid-1970s.
After a handful of knee surgeries (see The GeezerJock Interview), Johnson is just happy to still be running. “It gets my competitive juices flowing,” he said.
Men like Johnson and Collins have been known as athletes since they were young, but Masters track meets are full of competitors – mostly women – who have discovered their running and jumping talents later in life.
Audry Lary, who lives in Frederick, Md., went to high school in the 1950s well before Title IX made girls sports a reality. “Girls were cheerleaders,” she said.
Lary also took home gold in the 200, triple jump, long jump and discus.
Lary found Masters track by an odd route. When her husband fell ill with multiple sclerosis, he sent her to a personal trainer so she would be strong enough to lift him in and out of the wheelchair he would eventually need.
In her fitness training, she found she had a knack for sprinting. She began journeying to track meets all over the country and winning medals in most of them. “I’ve created a monster,” her husband would say.
At the Decatur meet, Lary was in her first year in the 70-74 age group, which is the best time to win golds and break records. She didn’t waste the opportunity, winning golds in the 100, the 200, the triple jump, long jump and discus. She set a world record in the triple jump with a leap of 8.09 meters and an American record in the long jump at 3.04 meters. Her triple jump would have won the women’s 55-59 age group.
Kathy Martin, a distance specialist who lives in Northport, N.Y., is another woman who discovered her speed later in life. She grew up in rural Canada, where girls sports were an afterthought. At her school, the girls practiced ice hockey after the boys and wore their sweaty equipment. “It was disgusting,” she said.
Martin began running when she was about 30. Her first outing was not promising. After about a mile, she was exhausted and lying on her back in the middle of the road. Her husband, Chuck, told her, “You’re going to get run over.”
“Well, I hope so,” she replied.
But now it’s get out of the way or get run over by Martin. She hopes to set the age-group record for every race from the 800 to the 20,000. At the Decatur meet she set an American record in the 10,000 with a time of 37:12.23. She also won the 1,500 and 5,000 but was disqualified in the 800 after inadvertently cutting over too soon.
Still, Martin left the meet satisfied. “We have no idea what we’re capable of,” she said. “To me it’s fun. It’s why we run. We’re just big kids having fun.”

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October 7, 2004