As a 50-something person frantically avoiding adulthood, and one who chafes at the latest AARP offering in the mail, seeing taut-bodied 30-year-olds competing at the USATF National Masters Track Meet took getting used to.
Weren’t these games, at Spokane Falls Community College, for young minds with aging bodies?
Masters Track is about octogenarian world record setters, isn’t it?
As one “youngster” of 64 put it, “usually the games I go to, the media goes for the 90-year-old bloke. They ask him what the secret is and the answer might be drinking a pint of beer a day. I say, pick the right parents, that’s all.”
There were a thousand stories at the nationals. Of Margaret Hinton’s nine gold medals in the women’s 75 category. Of Ivy Granstrom - “blind in one eye and can’t see out of the other,” she said - a competitor at 84 nonetheless, who walked up to the press box and thanked everyone over the P.A. for the chance to race.
It’s about 76-year-old sprinter Milton Silverstein, who flew effortlessly down the track to win his 100 meters by 25 meters. Silverstein later held his own against all whippersnappers, except record-holding 50-year-old Stan Whitley in an age-graded race complete with staggered start handicap.
The meet offered an image of steeplechasers who clambered over the barriers any way they could. Some grabbed with one hand and leaped, as if over a fence. Others conjured up images of out-of-shape basic trainees rolling over an obstacle course barrier before stumbling on.
Not of 30-year-olds. Someone age 30 conjures up images of Carl Lewis, 35, winning his fourth Olympics long jump, or decathlete Dan O’Brien at 30 being acclaimed the world’s greatest athlete.
“You can argue they’re not really masters,” said 53-year-old ex-Olympic hammer thrower Tom Gage. “But there’s a dividing line between those in international competition and those not quite there. It gives them an avenue.”
So here they were in Spokane, technically called sub-masters, competing for gold along with people old enough to be their parents or grandparents.
Their elders didn’t begrudge them a thing.
“This is not a seniors meet,” said Hinton, 75. “Anyone below 50 can be in it.”
Added Shirley Kinsey, 67, “if you don’t let them come in, they lose interest. There’s too long a span between open and senior events.”
There was common purpose among these athletes young and old, preservation of their beloved sport of track and field.
Still, looking at it from age 52, there’s something incongruous about the image of a 30-year-old approaching senior citizenship.
We have in the alphabet soup of organizations such as USATF categorized ourselves from 18-under youth into old age after 30 with only a small window of supposed vitality in between.
We have only ourselves to blame. The generation gap of a quarter century ago carried the anthem, “never trust anyone over 30” through the 1970s.
As we sped past that milestone, we discovered there was no finality to that particular age. Life really does go on with only a few concessions to physical degradation.
That is the truth four days of national masters track competition revealed at SFCC.
For four days, age was a state of mind, the athletes were incredibly vital - and a 30-year old is really young.